A New Zealand Internship During COVID-19
History of Music Therapy in New Zealand
Music therapy in New Zealand has a similar origin story to many other countries. It began forming a national presence around the year 1975, and the music therapy society spent the next twenty-five years raising the profile of music therapy and lobbying policy makers in health, education, justice, welfare, and community. In 2000, the New Zealand Music Therapy Registration Board was formed to regulate qualifications for the profession and in 2004, the first music therapy center was established - Raukatauri Music Therapy Center (RMTC).
About Raukatauri Music Therapy Center
RMTC is where I had my internship, and it stood out to me when I was reading about its history. Raukatauri Music Therapy Center was established by New Zealand singer Hinewehi Mohi and other local artists. It is named for Hinewehi’s daughter, Hineraukatauri, who has severe cerebral palsy. Hineraukatauri received music therapy during a family trip to London in 1999, and during these sessions was able to engage and communicate in ways not previously thought possible, making her family determined to bring the life-changing benefits of music therapy to New Zealand.
The name Raukatauri comes from the legend of Hine Raukatauri, the Goddess of Flutes, who is the personification of Music. In Māori legend (indigenous Polynesian people of mainland New Zealand), Hine Raukatauri is the casemoth who lives in her cocoon that hangs from many native trees. When Hinewehi came to name her daughter, Hineraukatauri’s severe cerebral palsy reminded her of the goddess trapped in her case, since she is trapped in her body and incapable of much independent movement, but is connected through beautiful music.
Music therapy is still largely unknown in New Zealand and therefore a large part of the center’s work to date has been in raising awareness and education of the field, especially for children with developmental disabilities. RMTC operates their main Auckland center, two regional centers, six satellites, and partners with over twenty schools and organizations. They see a wide range of populations including: children and adults with developmental disabilities or communication disorders; those who have experienced abuse, trauma, bereavement, or illness; clients in dementia and palliative care; those with addiction and/or mental health diagnoses; and those with undiagnosed learning, emotional or behavioral challenges.
Early Internship Experiences
When I researched the music therapy scene in Auckland after my student placements in Australia and New Zealand, I knew the best opportunity for an internship would be with this center. When I was accepted as a student with them in December 2019, I quickly began to learn what their vision was for accessible music therapy services for these populations. At the start of the year, while I was nervously meeting the team and trying to recall where all the many instruments belong, I had no idea what to expect. I never could have predicted things to happen the way they did only a few short months later.
My experiences in the first few months of my internship were eye-opening. They provided chances for me to begin using my theory and early experiences to stretch and grow as I discovered what kind of music therapist I was. I had the opportunity to work independently with several groups of clients with dementia each week through a new partnership with The Selwyn Foundation, collaborate with a widely trained and experienced team of music therapists and a speech therapist, and see a wide spectrum of clients. These early experiences were formative, and while they now seem, in a way, overshadowed by the subsequent events, they allowed me to respond the way I did and build upon those skills.
COVID-19 and the Move to Online Services
I speak, of course, of the impact the global pandemic had on my internship, as it has for many others. COVID-19 was late to arrive in New Zealand compared to the rest of the world, and it seemed to many there that it wasn't an imminent threat. There were many factors leading up to the events of late March, but it seemed that when they broke through the awareness of the public, things culminated quickly in action. On the 21st of March, the possibility of two cases being the result of community transmission was announced. Two days later, Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced movement to a higher level of preventative measures immediately, and gave two days’ notice for a lockdown entailing everyone besides essential workers stay home. Residents were instructed to leave only for essential services such as groceries and pharmacies or for one hour of exercise per day.
After the announcement, the RMTC team found itself trying to imagine how to respond in a way that was most supportive to our clients and their families. The week prior, we hadn't even begun to think of the possibility of telehealth in NZ. We knew that many of our families would face challenges from the lockdown in addition to the rising stress and uncertainty that all New Zealanders were experiencing. In brainstorming how we would respond as an organization, we quickly recognized the need for continued access to the music therapy services that our clients found so valuable, reassuring, and stimulating prior to this upheaval in their lives. I suggested the team collaborate to put together a TV-like program of recorded or live interventions that we could share to connect with our families, and the team responded with enthusiasm. In light of the financial challenges I faced as a student during a lockdown, my supervisor suggested creating a paid position that overlapped with and extended outside the reach of my placement to take on the responsibility of leading this project. Within a few days I was working under the role of Digital Clinical Services Coordinator to realize this idea and prepare it for launch the following week.
When the lockdown commenced on March 25th, 2020, we set ourselves up in our homes with instruments and tech, like many others, learning the tricks and tips for Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and social media. We spent the next few days planning how to move our services and brainstorm options for the variety of needs we service. Many of us began organising Zoom sessions immediately to provide familiar structure and routine to clients, continue our goal-oriented work, and offer a friendly face in uncertain times. We began to pre-record customized music therapy videos for our community outreach partners, to be shared via a private YouTube channel sent directly to residential facilities for use in daily programming or distributed by schools to families for use at home. We announced the availability of five minute “check-ins” with clients for whom regular sessions or group calls weren't possible (provided free of charge), and stayed in communication with our clients and their families. I continued organising the online project that would soon become a huge part of my internship with Raukatauri, and on April 1st RMTC officially kick started all our services online.
Student Music Therapist Hannah Jakel, RMT Jen Ryckaert, and Speech Therapist Kristy MacCallum lead a group therapy session over Zoom.
I launched the programming project under the name “QuaranTunes.” I had researched delivery and platforms and searched for other music therapists trying to provide these kinds of resources, and decided on using a private Facebook group with monitored access to provide an environment for families to utilize the resources we posted with a sense of safety, confidentiality, and community not possible with other platforms or a public group. The community often found in the shared space of our lobby before lockdown, where parents and carers could catch up over tea, share news in their lives, and discuss the joys and challenges of their loved one’s daily life, was now found in the comments of the videos posted each day in the group.
A normal day of videos on QuaranTunes started with a live streamed Mōrena (the Maōri word for “morning”) session and finished with an evening bedtime video to provide daily structure, while also featuring four or five themed musical videos throughout the day, all filmed by myself and the team of music therapists in our homes and backyards. These videos, which are distinct from goal-oriented music therapy sessions, featured movement activities, sing-a-longs, drumming, instrument-making tutorials, relaxation, bingo boards, music “challenges,” and special content like Jazz in the Jungle, Traveling the World, and even a tour of one music therapist’s family farm to sing with all the animals! The project became something I hold most dear to my heart and view as a special outcome of my internship at Raukatauri.
These videos became a comforting routine for clients and their families, who commented regularly with their support and appreciation for the resources. Those who initially joined to view their therapist’s content often expanded to enjoy and comment on videos and content by other members of the team, learning new favorite songs and receiving support through encouraging comments back from the therapists. Some of these client comments truly shone through as examples of how the program was received:
“You guys are awesome. [Client] is sooo into the music sessions you have been doing. At first he only wanted to listen to [his therapist]......but now quite attached to [another therapist] as well who he calls [his therapist]’s friend! Has taken a lot of pressure off me to leave [client] with a few instruments and the computer while I cook, clean or spend time with his siblings. So cool he is now back doing a full music therapy session via zoom, and totally into it like [his therapist]’s in the room”
“Hi [therapist]. Today started pretty bleuh in our house and we stumbled through school at home and missing nana's birthday. But then you came along with an infectious smile and a bunch of fabulous songs we could all sing along with. We're all smiling and have found the rest of the day so much better. Thank you so much, this session was excellent therapy for us all. (Btw, loved the sing choices and the kids could singalong to most of them thanks to a great school music teacher who teaches the whole school kiwi hits).”
“Thanks so much. [Client] LOVES waking up to all the Morena videos, singing and actions and she really enjoyed the alphabet songs, too. You are all doing a great job and it makes the days so much more structured and better for [client]!!!!”
During the seven weeks of lockdown measures making in person therapy inaccessible, QuaranTunes came up with new content each day, even featuring several clients sharing within the private group the songs they had learned during lockdown through their telehealth sessions. When clients returned to in-person sessions, many of the therapists on the team found clients had retained their progress through the online resources provided, and had come back with new favorite interventions they learned through the QuaranTunes group.
RMTC received several grants to continue these services over the school holidays to maintain the routine, stimulation, and support for the clients and their families. Re-launched as Raukatauri Tunes, the Facebook group continued to grow and post new content daily for the breaks between school terms. When Auckland was unexpectedly placed under a second, localized lockdown for several weeks in August 2020, Raukatauri Tunes immediately picked up again for the duration with interactive activities and compilations of favorite movement activities, sing-alongs, and more. The analytic insights provided by Facebook’s group management tools demonstrated the regular use of more than 130 videos in times of lockdown and term break. The insight of 31,600 minutes viewed to date was consistent with the amazing verbal and written feedback received about the program.
Through the duration of this project and the entirety of my placement in New Zealand, I was able to see how the unique charity organization I was with dealt with adversity and adapted to support their client base in a stand out way. In addition to the professional competencies I gained in this internship, I developed new skills around technology, social media administration, digital design tools, independent research and data analysis, online collaboration and management, and adaptive clinical skills. Through Raukatauri Tunes and the move to telehealth, I was able to experience music therapy in-person and online in various stages of my learning, and had to respond to the unique needs of clients during turbulent times - as well as observe the resilience and growth of their own.
Most importantly during this internship, I found and became more comfortable in my sense of therapeutic presence. In circumstances that demanded even more authenticity, honesty, and empathy than I had learned in previous placements, I learned how important it is to be responsive to the needs of each client and to take something out of each session, whether an area for improvement or a big accomplishment for the client. My internship in New Zealand taught me the music therapists there practice with deep compassion, genuine insightfulness and empathy, and considerate intention, and modeled the same skills for me. My supervisor and team supported me in every way through the challenges of the pandemic and the multitude of opportunities within the internship. It is these clients, team members, skills, and experiences abroad that hold a special place in my heart, and that I will take with me for the rest of my music therapy career.
Hannah recently completed her internship in New Zealand and is now a certified Music Therapist in the USA. She obtained her degree through Saint Mary of the Woods College in 2020 following undergraduate study at Gustavus Adolphus College, where she double majored in Psychological Science and Music. Hannah has experience with a wide range of populations in America, Australia, and New Zealand, with a focus on children and adults with developmental and behavioral disabilities and dementia and older adult care. She is dedicated to creating authentic and secure relationships with clients and advocating for accessible music therapy services.