Having always been a lover of music and an active musician and songwriter, I became increasingly aware of similarities between my experience of music and my journey through both sides of the therapeutic process whilst training as a psychotherapist.
In one particularly memorable instance I was really moved by the music of the celebrated jazz pianist Bill Evans. His piece, “My Foolish Heart” came across as being gently beautiful, but it also felt like an empathic communication to my inner self that spoke of an understanding and sharing of deeply personal emotional states and experiences. It felt somehow as if my inner self had been exposed and touched. As if my soul was somehow embodied in the piano keys touched with such gentleness and sensitivity by the musician. I felt utterly connected with.
And it felt very much like my experience of being met and truly seen without judgment as a counselling client. If anything it felt stronger. How could this be, across the space and time from a New York jazz bar in 1961? I began to wonder if the core conditions at the heart of a therapeutic experience might also be found in music and the other art forms.
As often seems to happen as we make our way into something new, events began to conspire somehow. An influential figure in my therapeutic education suggested that I might explore ways of linking together my music and therapeutic approach. Concurrently I was discussing recording some of my songs with the leading singer songwriter Chris Wood. Chris wanted to encourage me to perform, “…less like a performer, and more like you, more like the person I know!”
The recording process that ensued was an education. I realised that whilst as a therapist I was relatively comfortable being myself, I was far less able to be that present as a singer and musician. I was acting like whatever I thought a singer was, rather than my true self.
This was robbing my music of power and authenticity and creating anxiety at the heart of what I was trying to deliver. As Chris recorded my efforts he would stop me in my tracks if he heard my singing slipping into what became known as “the club turn” mode. It was a bracing examination and deconstructed so many of the habits I had developed over the years. At times I cried tears of frustration at my inability to let go and just allow myself to be me. I returned home to Sheffield with my head buzzing with all I had learned.
Having waited with bated breath to hear the finished recordings I was shocked when I listened back to them. I found them almost unlistenable - I was so present! All that I had ever done to seek polish and conformity in my presentation seemed to have been replaced by a performance so uneven and scratchy you could have sanded down floorboards with it.
The traditional launch gig for music usually entails getting everyone you possibly can into a venue, so you can create as much interest in your new release, and hopefully sell a few copies into the bargain. All that I had learned led me in the opposite direction. I would do my launch gig as a one song set – to one person at a time. And so One:One was born. Individual songs performed face to face to individual audiences.
When I delivered One:One for the first time I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was that whilst everyone seemed to enjoy the experience, many found that it was a much more profound experience than they anticipated. I felt the same. It was so much more connected than playing a gig. I felt like I met people at a far deeper level than expected. The first event led to a second, larger event, where 63 individual meetings took place. The pattern was the same.
I feel that what I am finding in One:One has implications for both therapists and artists, and of course for all of us who feel better for being met, accepted, and understood.
Andy Whitehouse will be running an online workshop exploring these ideas in more depth on the morning of Saturday 5th September. More details are available here: Making Contact: Parallels between Therapy and Art