Ep. 130 Transcript

Disclaimer: This is transcribed using AI. Expect (funny) errors.

Mindy Peterson: [00:00:00] Mindy Peterson. And this is Enhance Life with Music, a holistic look at the power of music in our everyday lives. Joining me today is Dr. Diane Austin, director of the Music Psychotherapy Center in New York City. Dr. Austin has maintained a private practice in vocal psychotherapy for more than 30 years. She is an adjunct associate professor at New York University and the Graduate Music Therapy Department and is the founder and director of the Post Master’s Training Program in Vocal Psychotherapy in New York City. Dr. Austin has taught international training programs in vocal psychotherapy. She has lectured throughout the world and has authored a book on the topic and her work has been published in numerous journals and books. Welcome to Enhance Life with music, Diane.

Diane Austin: [00:00:49] Oh, glad to be here.

Mindy Peterson: [00:00:51] Well, Diane, I had never heard of music psychotherapy until recently. I’m a huge fan of psychotherapy. I’ve benefited significantly from it myself. Can you explain how you define psychotherapy and then explain what music psychotherapy is and also vocal psychotherapy?

Diane Austin: [00:01:10] I would say broadly, psychotherapy is working with issues that pertain to psychological problems and not medical. That’s a very broad definition.

Mindy Peterson: [00:01:23] And would you say that music, psychotherapy and vocal psychotherapy are sort of subsets of psychotherapy and maybe even music psychotherapy being a subset and then vocal psychotherapy being yet another subset of music psychotherapy.

Diane Austin: [00:01:38] Yeah, I don’t call vocal psychotherapy exactly a subset. It’s kind of an offshoot, but it’s my own way of working that I’ve created, and it’s now become the first voice based model of music therapy. It’s a new model. We have several models that are I studied when I was a student and this is the first voice based one. It’s a new model. So exciting.

Mindy Peterson: [00:02:06] Most listeners probably are familiar with psychotherapy. When did music psychotherapy first come around and how would you define that?

Diane Austin: [00:02:15] Music psychotherapy, that’s a fairly new term, and some people in other regions of the country don’t use it. But I was trained at NYU. I got my masters and my doctorate there and spent some time training in Temple University in Philadelphia. And it seems like the East Coast and probably California, I don’t know, some other places have used the term music psychotherapy because we work deeper. We really do more in-depth work, whereas music therapy is a very broad definition. But the common definition would be the clinical and evidence based use of music interventions and for people of all ages and ability levels. And that music psychotherapy is what we started calling our program. And why you? Because we delve a little deeper.

Mindy Peterson: [00:03:14] Interesting. So it’s almost like music. Psychotherapy is a combination of music therapy and psychotherapy. You define psychotherapy as not necessarily related to the physical body, but more of the the psyche and the mind. Right. Music therapy also can tend to be thought of probably more in the physical realm, whereas musical music psychotherapy does deal more with going deeper into the psyche and the mind rather than the body.

Diane Austin: [00:03:41] Yeah, music therapy addresses a method of all around health promotion. So like with an autistic child, it might just be to improve the quality of their life, like they enjoy the music. Some of them are very good at music and love music. Music therapy covers a wide range of settings, sure.

Mindy Peterson: [00:04:01] And I’m just amazed ever since I started this podcast with how broad that is, how broad that range is that music therapists work with, and that it does encompass the body in terms of using music with Parkinson’s disease and with speech therapy and people like Gabby Giffords who suffer from aphasia, teaching them to relearn how to speak again. It’s really incredible how it can deal with the physical body. But you have found a way to use it to go deeper with psychotherapy and get probably more results than what you could without it. When did you first encounter using music in psychotherapy?

Diane Austin: [00:04:41] I went into the field later in life and I had undergone my own many years of Jungian analysis and then went into music therapy. I was also a singer, so to me I found out about this. It seemed like a great way to combine two things I loved. Yeah. So I was set up to do this, you know?

Mindy Peterson: [00:05:04] Yeah. Well, there’s a great video in your website landing page that shows you in a session with a client actually doing this vocal psychotherapy, I think you call it free association. And just seeing it in action is hugely helpful because I feel like it it is kind of hard or hard to understand what it is without experiencing it, whether it’s firsthand or vicariously by watching this. And I found it really powerful to watch that video and I thought, God bless this client who had the courage to be vulnerable and have her session recorded because it is so helpful for others to understand what this mode of this model of psychotherapy is. And I’m sure that her just being willing to be authentic and honest and brave in that way is probably led to many people getting treatment in this way because they see that and think, Oh, now I get it. And boy, yeah, I could see this being really helpful and she could do this and so can I.

Diane Austin: [00:06:04] It’s very powerful. And a lot of people in different schools across the country when they talk about vocal psychotherapy now have something to show. Because, as you say, it’s hard to read about vocal psychotherapy. I call it Vocal Psycho sometimes, but it’s hard to just read and understand it. But vocal psychotherapy is a whole paradigm that uses start with the breath. We work with breath and then natural sounds. This exercises I do with just raw, primitive sound and the emotions of course, and combination, including verbal interventions. So I do I combine verbal interventions as you would in psychotherapy with the use of music and the two techniques that are really paramount. And the system, they are called vocal holding, which is just singing without words. It’s complicated, but you use unison harmony, which is like starting to separate. And then something I call grounding, which is when the therapist holds a note and the client can go off and improvise that they have this bass, you know, it’s like rapprochement with a child when they start to leave the mother, when they can start to walk. And if the mother is a good enough mother, when a cuts term, they are able to leave and walk to the door. And then they look to make sure mom’s still there or they might run back and touch Mom. So it’s like.

Mindy Peterson: [00:07:41] It’s her touchstone as a stabilizing. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. Well, let me go back to what you said about breath. You start with breath and breathing is that I could see that being having a calming effect and also maybe just a regulating effect and also maybe some kind of an entrainment effect between the therapist and the client. Are those accurate? Is there other stuff going on with the why, the breath? Why do you start there?

Diane Austin: [00:08:11] Well, you’ve you’ve said it exactly to start with breathing, calming and grounding before we go into talking about or then singing about something that may be difficult. So I want the person to start from a solid place. And also the exhalation is very important in trauma work. So with that in mind, I sometimes do an exercise, breathe in four, four, hold for four and eventually exhale, say to eight. So you build on that. The exhalation is really letting go and there are systems that our body that are holding trauma. So sometimes a person will start breathing deeply who have never had that experience. They breathe very shallowly to control their feelings. So just that can open up emotion.

Mindy Peterson: [00:09:07] I bad. Well I could see what you’re describing being having a relaxing effect or releasing of tension. You’re getting more oxygen to the brain and the body overall and almost like a purifying effect of just getting that oxygen flowing through the blood, getting that breathing process going. I’m kind of breathing more deeply myself just talking about it. But yeah, I could see that really helping and a lot of ways physiologically and also mentally, emotionally.

Diane Austin: [00:09:38] It’s powerful because most people don’t breathe deeply. We walk around using only maybe a third of our our lung capacity. And it’s also a way to control feelings. People don’t breathe deeply as unconsciously. They’re controlling their feelings. So people that talk rapidly is an. Another thing I find in my practice, I’ll have to say. Okay, just slow down. Take a ball. Let’s talk about my kids.

Mindy Peterson: [00:10:07] Say that sometimes about my podcast. I have one child who listens. He’s mentioned he’s like mom a couple of times. I wondered if I had it on one and a half speed. Because you talking so fast. Yes. Well, I will definitely have the link in the show notes to your website so the listeners can watch that video and listen to it and really understand, since we can’t do that right here in within the podcast episode, can you just describe in a minute or two what viewers would see in that video? What does one of these sessions look like? We started with the breathing, so we know that sort of how it begins.

Diane Austin: [00:10:46] With the breathing to ground and attuned to their breathing. So attunement is very, very important and really being with the client vocal psychotherapy is also intersubjective, which is a term that means it’s basically we’re on the same level only in different roles. What’s healing about that, especially with trauma, is there’s no hierarchy because many people go into an analyst that doesn’t speak or speaks very little. It’s a more hierarchical system. You know, this is like it’s a real relationship and it’s a therapeutic relationship. But I am my authentic self. I don’t share much, but once in a while I will share something if I think it will help the client. It’s a real process of traveling with them or a companion thing I call it. So I’ll companion the client if they are going somewhere deeper, I go with them. So I have like one foot in and one foot out. That’s the way I describe it. When I teach, one foot has to be out on the ground in solidly and then one foot is with the client. So when I go with them, I can actually feel what they’re feeling. Some people can do that. We call it the empath, and you can really pick up what they’re feeling and what you see in the tape. You might see some of that it’s free associative singing. So the two main methods, as I said, are vocal holding, which is nonverbal and free associative singing, which is you’re adding words. And what I do, I act as a double, you could say an alter ego. So I mirror back what they’re singing at times. I will add something and there’s a few of examples of that in the video, and if the client feels that’s accurate, they will repeat it. If they don’t feel it’s accurate, they will change it. But even if they change it, the process is deepening because we’re going further into a subject matter of feeling.

Mindy Peterson: [00:13:10] And I imagine you give some of those instructions before you start the process.

Diane Austin: [00:13:14] Yes, absolutely. Yes. I tell them what will happen. And often my interventions, as I said, there’s all sung. No, I’ll repeat and then I may sing and I’m tired now or and I feel sad. And they would repeat that if it’s accurate. And so that will take us deeper into the process. And if they don’t, they might say, I feel lonely. And that also takes us deeper into the process. So when I work in depth, that’s the kind of interventions I do.

Mindy Peterson: [00:13:49] And you’re at the piano all the time when you do this.

Diane Austin: [00:13:52] Yeah.

Mindy Peterson: [00:13:53] So both of you are sort of sitting together at the piano.

Diane Austin: [00:13:57] Right on separate seats, and I use two chords. That’s a big part of this. A two chords I find for people that don’t typically sing, and even those that do, it’s very easy. It’s hard to make a mistake with two chords. This began with a client I worked with at Bronx Psychiatric Center who didn’t know any songs, who was developmentally delayed. And also, I think she was schizophrenic. It was very difficult for people to work with her. So I started simply singing La La La, played these two chords and had a wonderful result with her looking into my eyes. And, you know, it’s like I’m a good mother, you know, and really singing together. And that’s where the idea started. Then later on I started working with, Well, what would you and Harmony be like? And she couldn’t do it. She kept going to meet my note and then at. The end of my work with her, she actually was able to do some harmony and eventually she was transferred from very heavily locked psych ward to living in a psychiatric community. So I don’t know if it was all from this, but I think it was a big part of it because I was really her main therapist.

Mindy Peterson: [00:15:22] Wow. That’s got to be really gratifying. So the two chords that you use when you say two chords is that like, say, for example, the one chord in the four chord or.

Diane Austin: [00:15:32] Yes.

Mindy Peterson: [00:15:33] Yes.

Diane Austin: [00:15:34] One in four. Kind of my favorite. So how did you know that? Okay. You hear it? It’s those are really good, because if you did one five, there’s an ending. When you hit the five, you know, like it’s over.

Diane Austin: [00:15:52] One and four keep motion happening. So even an experienced singer, I don’t want them to try to perform a so in some ways it’s harder with them. So I want them to just sit down and go deeper into their body and the breathing helps that.

Mindy Peterson: [00:16:10] When I watched the video, it looks like you use gosh, is it first person? Am I saying that right when you when you speak? So like, for example, the client may say, I’m feeling discouraged and you say I’m feeling discouraged.

Diane Austin: [00:16:27] Absolutely.

Mindy Peterson: [00:16:28] And just watching that in action, I thought it just really hit me emotionally like, oh, this person is not alone. This other person is there. Feels it too. You know, even though I was watching it third party and sort of knew it just kind of had this powerful emotional effect, like, oh, I’m so glad this woman’s not alone.

Diane Austin: [00:16:48] She’s not, you know? Yes. You’re very observant. It’s great.

Mindy Peterson: [00:16:53] Well, I can only imagine how powerful it would be if you are the person sitting in that chair next to you to experience that. And then just making music together has such a bonding effect anyways, you’re throwing that factor into it as well. What are some other reasons why this works? Why music? Why music allows you to go deeper through this model?

Diane Austin: [00:17:18] It gives you another holding environment. You have the two chords that are holding you and calming and bringing out feelings, and then the therapist’s singing voice is companionate. And you’re right about the the doubling is so important. So when you double exactly what you said, you are supporting the client, you’re really giving them a sense of they’re not alone. So the singing in the first person, as you describe it, is very powerful. They’re not alone. They sing I sing I. And then as I intervene, I still sing I and I feel this way and I wonder whatever. And you can leave it blank. You can put in a word. As I said, all of those are going to deepen the process, but they are not alone and they feel that, yeah, that’s common. I get from clients all alone, which is powerful.

Mindy Peterson: [00:18:20] Yeah, it is. Well and when you talk about that holding pattern and that capacity of music to become that, I imagine there could be times in sessions where a client just may feel like, okay, I just need to sort of take a little break here and just sort of like not keep moving forward, but just sort of hang on, let me just catch my breath here, not literally, but just emotionally. And I could see you really easily being able to do that in the container of music.

Diane Austin: [00:18:51] That’s true. I have one case example. I present a lot on this all over the world, really. But I always have case examples so you can hear it. As you said, audio is very, very hard to get because it’s such a personal, intimate thing to do. And the most things I’ve seen that are audiotaped, that are visually taped, rather, are with children and adolescents. And you still have to get permission from a parent. But adults do not want to be videotaped. I audiotape a lot of my sessions, which is a big help. This was an unusual situation. I had worked with this woman for a long time in the past and she came back after this experience in the hospital and just wanted a couple of sessions to recover from that experience. So she was fine with letting herself be recorded.

Mindy Peterson: [00:19:52] Well, it’s really powerful. I mean, my hat’s off to her and just kudos to her for having that courage to do that, because I’m sure it’s. Scores of people. Well, you wrote a book, The Theory and Practice of Vocal Psychotherapy, Songs of the Self. Is this something that’s written primarily for trained therapists, or is this something that a layperson could read?

Diane Austin: [00:20:12] A layperson could read it. It’s not heavy with academic words. And it’s it’s a really accessible book because I share a lot of my own history in the book. I work a lot with poetry and poetry that is necessary. In other words, like in a musical theatre piece today, the best writers have songs that if you took them out, there’d be a gap. So it’s the same. My poetry really adds to it. The case studies or the subject I’m talking about. So the poetry, my own reflections, my own thoughts about what’s happening to me as this process is going on. And I think anyone interested in psychotherapy or who has been in psychotherapy or who finds music healing would enjoy this book.

Mindy Peterson: [00:21:07] You do a lot of training. Yeah. Do you find that most people who come to you for training are music therapists or psychotherapists who want to incorporate music into their practice? Or is it an even mix? Is there a third group that you tend to see a lot of come through your trainings?

Diane Austin: [00:21:24] Well, my training in New York was only for music therapists or music psychotherapists, depending on the school they went to. But then I decided to do a distance training so I could I was invited actually to Vancouver. That was the first one I did. And the people that came there were they were all music therapists. And I do one in Korea and they are music therapists. But the one in England, which is my newest one, and I’m totally excited about this training because it’s international. So we have people from all over the world in this training, which is thrilling. In that training, we do accept some people that may be psychotherapists and also musicians. During the interview and reading their material, we decide if they would do well in vocal psychotherapy. So we’ve had several people like that and they have done exceedingly well. That only happens in England because the person that invited me there agreed with me that some of these people fit the bill. You know, sure, we’re singers. And they also had psychology or social work degrees or even counseling sometimes.

Mindy Peterson: [00:22:43] And you have a new distance training program starting in the US beginning this fall, is that right?

Diane Austin: [00:22:50] That’s right. I decided.

Mindy Peterson: [00:22:52] That.

Diane Austin: [00:22:52] Yeah, that’s exciting. It’s brand new because it is in the US and my other training programs that have been going on for years have been very small, like only eight people. And the other trainings that have been distance trainings have had like 17 people or something around that number. So I’ve reached more people and also the people I have in New York are only people that can really commute there because it’s once a week. So I called some people from Philly or Connecticut and even someone from Washington who stayed overnight. But it’s it’s a very long commute. So the tendency has been it’s just very East Coast. So I want to reach people across the whole country. And actually two people from the US came to England to study because they didn’t live near New York. So I thought it would be great to change the format of this weekly thing and do the distance training, which means that I go there two times each year. So it’s a two year program and I do experiential training twice a year, and that’s intensive, experiential, where they would do vocal holding, they would do it with me, they will do it with each other.

Diane Austin: [00:24:15] And then they take a client, someone who volunteers say to do four sessions with them and they get supervision on that. So it’s so much more intensive and I think a better training experience so they can actually go out and do this work. Sure. The first group in England, there’s been several people that have written about it and have chapters in books already. Oh, that’s very exciting. Yeah, journals also. And that’s what I’m hoping to do with this US version. That will be the same format will be based in New York, but it will be twice a year that they have to come to New York and they can also enjoy New York if they’re from, you know, another. Straight people that haven’t been to New York and they will get the intensive experiential training. And then once a month, we will have an online component in which we discuss articles that I assign. And some are on basic things like transference, counter transference. I could go on about this, but I.

Mindy Peterson: [00:25:23] Well, for listeners who want to learn more and dig into this, whether they just want to gather more information on it, whether they’re interested in participating in your training, definitely go to Diane’s website and check out this video where you can watch the session in action. Listeners could also check out your book. What other resources do you recommend?

Diane Austin: [00:25:42] Those are the two main ones, and I’m building redoing my website right now, so I will have references to the articles that have been written since by other people I’ve trained. Yeah, some of them specialize in a different population because people say, well, I don’t do private practice. How could I adapt this to my work in hospitals or my work with someone on the spectrum? So that’s great. I find it so exciting because it will help people who work with other kinds of clients. And for therapists. I have to say my chapter on transference and counter transference is really in depth and draws on many other psychologists. And my own experience.

Mindy Peterson: [00:26:28] Is this model being widely used enough that there’s someplace listeners could go to find a practitioner, or is this pretty narrow where people would have to come to you? Or there’s just kind of a handful of people who have trained with you that someone would have to go to. How widespread is this practice?

Diane Austin: [00:26:47] Well, it’s spreading out right now. I have trainers in New York because that’s where I’ve been based. There’s some in New Jersey. There’s some in Connecticut, as I said, one woman in Washington, a couple in Philadelphia. There’s one woman in California, a woman in Ohio. So it is spreading. There’s also an international community. You can find people in England and now Belgium. They’re doing a lot of vocal psychotherapy there. And one of the articles is written by a Belgian music psychotherapist, vocal psychotherapist now and everywhere, Singapore.

Mindy Peterson: [00:27:30] Wow. Well, that’s great that it’s spreading more. I could see this being really helpful for parents to use with young children, too. If a young child or child is distressed about having to eat their broccoli or having to brush their teeth or pick up their toys, just start singing along with them like I don’t want it’s sad that I have to pick up my toys, you know? Well, this is so fascinating and I’m so grateful for all the work that you do to enhance lives with music. I ask all my guests to close out our conversation with a musical ending a coda by sharing a song or story about a moment that music enhanced your life. Do you have a song or a story that you can share with us today in closing?

Diane Austin: [00:28:13] Well, a little of each. I’ll sing a little of a song, but I want to say that the person who I idealize, I guess I am so respectful toward is Stephen Sondheim. He is, to me, brilliant. And he is unlike his forms of doing things all in music, like most of Sweeney Todd is sung and some of his other musicals. But he is the most psychological writer there is. There is no doubt in my mind and other people that follow him. And I think because of his own childhood trauma, he had quite a difficult childhood. But Oscar Hammerstein sort of rescued him from a mother who basically hated him. And so his music, his lyrics especially, and the music really goes deep and is very, very psychological. So I’m drawn to him. My clients I’ve introduced his music to are drawn to him. He has a song, No One Is Alone. And I actually sang this at a music therapy teacher at her funeral service, and so I’ll try to sing a little of it. My voice is not warmed up, but I can do.

Mindy Peterson: [00:29:39] Wonderful.

Diane Austin: [00:29:40] No one here to guide you. Now you’re on your own. Only me beside you still you’re on your own. No one is a. Phone me. No one is alone. Sometimes people leave you halfway through the world. Others may deceive you. You decide what’s good. You decide what’s known. But no one is alone. That’s the gist of the song.

Mindy Peterson: [00:30:31] I love that concept. And as you’re singing, I’m just picturing that video of you interacting with that client. And it’s not you feel this way. It’s I feel this way and you’re reflecting back. I feel this way. And that’s just there’s such power in that. Love it. Well, thank you so much for coming on the show today, Diane. And for all you do to, as I said, enhance lives with music, it’s so powerful. I encourage listeners to go check out your work, check out that video and dig more by checking out your book and maybe checking into some of the training. I’m guessing that the training that’s beginning in the US this fall, the information will be on your website about that.

Diane Austin: [00:31:10] Yes, as I said, it’s a work in progress.

Mindy Peterson: [00:31:13] Well, we will keep our eyes on that ever evolving, morphing, developing website of yours.

Transcribed by Sonix.ai