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Peddling Blossoms

The Full Circle Peddling Blossoms - blessing poem

Give up what you do not want, now.
Give up what you do not need.
Strip down; strip yourself down to bare, raw, bone essentials.


Beg the wind to blow away the excess and then plead for it to take away even more –
yes, even that which you thought you could not live without.
Strip down to the Imperishable I,
the Eternal Essence,
the bone-deep, soul-deep brutal burning that no fierce gale can sweep away.


And when you are only a kernel, a seed, a bare, tiny fraction of the earth, your very existence will call out with pure, raw potential
and you will be heard.
You will be heard by the mountain, by the river and by the sky.
You will be heard by the smallest creature, by the widest expanse and by the deepest, chasmic depth.


You will be allowed passage into fertile ground, granted the right to flow, to go
where previously you were too large and cumbersome to tread.
The immensity of your promise in this world will be borne within your humbled and holy frame,
Borne through the long season, the longest night and the darkness of the dirt that you must endure.


And then, as it should be, and as it is, you shall begin to expand, upward and downward, inward and outward, rooted in life-giving, life-promising earth,
rising true toward the sun,
renewed and blessed.
You will be blessed.

Intention Setting for 2020

Now available: Creative INTENTION SETTING 2 hour session in preparation for and contemplation of 2020. Choose awareness and intention as you embrace your potential and invite prosperity. This is a tried and trusted process with the powerful effect of consciously and unconsciously guiding you toward your goals and desires. Mark the passage from one year to the next in order to step more fully into your potential.

Mixed creative media (pastels, collage etc.), intentional use of music-listening to stimulate the process and verbal reflection and contemplation. All materials provided. No ‘creative’ experience necessary.

Available for adults or teens. Individual or group bookings available in Cape Town.

To book, click here.

Travel Safely: Psychedelic Guidance

Psychedelic Guidance Cape Town

After a long period of enforced dormancy, some psychedelics (such as LSD, psilocybin, ibogaine and ketamine) are emerging as breakthrough treatments for a variety of serious mental health conditions. During the long relegation to ‘illegal’ and ‘dangerous’ status (which many of these substances still hold in most countries, including South Africa), individuals seeking alternative treatments or psychedelic-induced mystical experiences have had to make it on their own, without profession guidance on their mind-altering journey.

Why guidance?

“Institutionalized use of psychedelics in religions of pre-modern societies worldwide reveal the central roles of these substances in the evolution of spiritual experiences, cultures, and religions” (Winkelman, 2017). The ancient wisdom traditions that use/d various psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin (magic mushrooms), for their medicinal and transcendent properties knew that a certain factors were not just important, but necessary for safely and meaningfully entering into the induced mystical or spiritual state.

In pre-modern cultures, ritual and ceremony cannot be divorced from the use of mind-altering substances. Various culturally relevant preparations and enactments are essential for the containment and enhanced meaningfulness of the journey. Nor would one expect to make one’s own way through a psychedelic experience without the use of an experienced guide, usually a shaman or similar, who themselves has mastered the ‘two worlds’ and is capable of holding and guiding the intense and vivid journeys of others. Further traditions are often forgotten by the modern, solo traveller, such as those leading up to the experience: fasting, if necessary, other medical implications (such as medicines that may need to be discontinued before use), the environment in which the experience will occur and the individual’s mindset (known as set and setting: both of which research has found to be markedly important for the outcome of the experience), and even the time of day that the ceremony is performed. Mindset is incredibly important when entering an altered state of consciousness; fears, anxieties and doubts should be addressed long before the experience is underway. There may be certain longer term preparations than need to be made, such as developing a mindfulness practice, meditation or yoga.

A psychedelic revolution has been gaining momentum for some time now, and until certain measures are in place, modern day, city-dwelling individuals are frankly forced into unsafe, hardly optimal conditions if they seek these experiences. Because of the increasingly complex yet somewhat spiritually flattened society we live in, there is more that a ‘modern-day’ guide needs to take into consideration than a traditional, pre-modern ‘small village’ guide. This versatility and adaptiveness on the part of a modern guide is essential in order to safely and meaningfully guide different individuals with different intentions, backgrounds and world views who are seeking psychedelic-induced mystical experiences.

In truth, not everyone can, should or needs to embark on a psychonautic journey. For those who do, the services of a trusted, sober, experienced guide makes a qualitative difference. Unfortunately, there are now individuals who pose as guides with little understanding of the psychological, environmental, spiritual and biological factors at play and because psychedelic experiences are in no way regulated, an individual seeking a guide may be none-the-wiser.

Language associated with psychedelic-induced and naturally-induced mystical experiences (‘total awareness’, ‘complete ego dissolution’) is becoming commonplace, as more individuals engage in contemplative practices and exploratory psychedelic experiences. This is both encouraging, as it is indicative of people seeking more awareness and deeper, more meaningful engagement with their realities. However, one must also note the fact that a forced, complete and sudden break from one’s familiar reality holds the potential to be at minimum unpleasant or worse, outright dangerous. No person should use a psychedelic, mind-altering substance without seriously considering the implications and the possible outcomes. This is a process which can be undertaken with a guide, in order to determine if the experience is optimal for you and how it can be most meaningful, beneficial and safe.

For more information, Cape Town, click here.

Tips for a Happy Holiday: Bipolar Christmas Planning

bipolar christmas coping strategies

Christmas is a difficult time for many people. There are financial obligations, family obligation and often many end-of year events that lead up toward Christmas, increasing the feeling of time-pressure and burnout that may already be present.

One of the reasons Christmas time is particularly difficult for individuals with bipolar disorder or depression is the lack of structure that permeates holidays. For those with bipolar disorder, having a predictable structure, a routine, and goal-oriented tasks are known to be extremely helpful for stabilising moods and preventing relapses or spiralling out of control. When the usual work/school structure falls away and no preparations have been made for the holidays and how one will cope, symptoms such as depression, mania, high levels of anxiety and even suicidality can crop up.

Because structure is important for your mental-wellbeing, it is a good idea to begin planning your routine for the holidays now, before the open, lazy days are upon you. I suggest you make a calendar (or update your calendar) based on the following suggestions and the coping strategies you already use. Here are some questions to get you thinking about possible ways forward:

  1. Is there a project you have been putting off that you can dedicate some time to each day? Schedule time to work on it into your calendar. This may be 2 hours daily, 30 minutes daily, or even 60 minutes every second or third day. Decide what you want to commit to and ensure that you have a regular entry for this activity in your calendar.
  2. Are there Christmas gifts or cards that you can make instead of buy – saving you money and providing you with a meaningful activity at the same time?
  3. Is there a friend or relative (or more than one) who you can meet with regularly, perhaps weekly for coffee or a walk, and schedule that meeting into your calendar? Alternatively, can you set up some meeting dates for during the holidays with various individuals?
  4. Can you ensure that your exercise routine remains relatively structured despite the ambiguity of holiday days? (If you don’t have an exercise routine, now would be a good time to put one into practice. Begin with a walk every day – or as often as possible – if you are starting from scratch.) We know exercise has strong mood benefits and it is obviously also great for keeping in shape and general physical health. If you are taking a break from exercise for a while in the holidays, I encourage you to continue with a light form of exercise like walking in order to still gain the mood benefits.
  5. Can you use social media and TV watching in an intentional manner: for example, as a reward for engaging in structured and meaningful activities, instead of opting for TV or Facebook in long, unregulated sessions? Too much social media is linked to depression and screen time easily sucks real time away. Because of this, one’s daily structure is disrupted and feelings associated with depression may emerge. This is true for most people, but those with bipolar disorder should be extra-aware of their screen time.
  6. Are there decisions you need to make about Christmas itself – which events you will go to, which you won’t, which you’ll host, which you won’t? If you feel you need to avoid certain shops/malls (or even people!) on certain days (such as busy Christmas Eve), make note of that now and schedule accordingly.
  7. Are you able to ensure that you have an exit strategy (such as taking your own car) for events that you are anxious about or hesitant to attend?
  8. Can you plan some ‘me-time’ activities, scheduling in a few things that you really enjoy and that feed your soul? Ensure it is scheduled in your calendar because these are easily the first things to fall away when demands compete; if you have kids, can you find someone to help you by looking after them during the scheduled ‘me-time’? Fit your activity to your pocket: a walk on the beach is free!
  9. Can you try keep to a regular sleep schedule, as much as is possible? This regularity is extremely helpful for maintaining a stable mood and sleep itself is revitalising and regenerating during times of wellness and ill health.
  10. Can you avoid over-indulging with alcohol? Too much alcohol consumption will certainly affect the mood negatively and if coupled with lack of sleep and lack of structure, the outcome may be damaging.
  11. Can you keep a journal, with as much or little detail as you like, in order to help track your thoughts, feelings, sleeping habits (monitoring that you are not losing sleep significantly) and general mood? This is also very helpful in the long-run, as you can reflect on your writings in the future and realise coping strategies, helpful activities or even triggers that you were not initially aware of.

I encourage you to begin working on a schedule that takes these questions into consideration. The holidays can be a happy, relaxing time but may need some extra thought and planning for those with bipolar disorder.

For more bipolar support, book a session by clicking here.

Sunrise

Friend, this Peak you face is high and the climb is brutal.
When you look up, you will see darkness; when you look down, you will see darkness – I won’t lie to you.
Yes, you know this is a long, dark, cold night,
and you feel each step, each breath, is a fight.
I won’t lie to you, my friend.

You will continue the climb in these conditions, harsh, unforgiving, painful.
You will continue because you want to see.
You will continue because you have to.

Friend, when your last reserves’ last reserves have been depleted,
you will turn inward and find coldness;
you will turn outward and find coldness.
I won’t lie to you.

Listen closely, my friend, to what will happen next:
First you will feel, then you will see.
Slowly, the cold, the dark, the timelessness will be erased.
Life will become vivid and warm again.
Friend, your reserves will be restored, you will be restored.
I won’t lie to you, you will not know how to speak of your experience.
For those who have faced the Peak, it is called the Sunrise.

How Guided Imagery and Music can transform your life

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Book a transformative session in the leafy Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa. Be kind to yourself, or offer the gift of self -compassion, creative exploration and self-discovery to a loved one. The Bonny Guided Imagery of Music (BMGIM) is a form of music and image based psychotherapy that requires extensive training in mythical, pathological, archetypal, practical and other modules over three years. The qualification has it’s roots in the psychedelic experimentation and training that took pace in the 50s and 60s in labs in the United States, effective therapeutic modalities which are being resurrected now. BMGIM (The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music), emerging out of this field and growing exponentially, borrows language such as ‘Guide’ and ‘Traveller’ and even ‘Journey’. Travellers are likely to experience altered states of consciousness, unlike a drug-induces state (far more controlled than a drug-induced state) yet still reap the benefits of accessing deeply unconscious, sometimes mythological and archetypal material. Currently, I am in advanced training in BMGIM and find that my client’s BMGIM encounters are potent and hold tranformative potential, as well as the potential for deep rest, growth and healing. This topic is certain to be discussed at the upcoming World Congress of Music Therapy in Pretoria at The University of Pretoria in 2020.
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Guided imagery is for adults and most teens, men and women. If you are unsure whether it is for you or are interested in finding out more about this transformative and creative way of working, contact me: https://melissaellse.co.za/contact/
Please note, no previous ‘creative endeavours’ are necessary, such as art or music etc. Come as you are.

Discovering Meaning in Transition

If life is a journey, most of us can identify transitional points along the way and perhaps some of us are negotiating these now. Transitions bring change, transformation, creativity and hope but they are often made of loss, confusion, illness and anger. You can, however, harness the power of transitional moments or periods in your life, heal and move into new spaces, finding meaning in the journey.

I am privileged to have been witness to the courage of my clients: those learning to embrace new things, those accepting themselves or others, those finally saying no, those finding their voices, those learning to let go, those walking the difficult path of grief and those navigating the treacherous waters of mental and physical health problems.

Clients have said that the sessions validated where they currently are and gave “permission to go into the future”.

Discovering meaning in transition is essential in order to tie our story together and make sense of who we are. This allows us to walk a full circle and brings a sense of completion to each journey we take, whether it be relationship-oriented, career-oriented, health-oriented or self-development-oriented. Only from this space of self-knowledge can we make sense of what we want, where we want to be and where we have come from. The process of meaning making and engaging with ourselves so deeply and honestly is difficult at times – sometimes it seems easier to forget or ignore parts of who we are or where we are. Yet our core or essence — our true self — wants to enter into conversation with us and bring transformation, healing and integration. During these conversations, we begin to discover meaning in transition and it is a rewarding, memorable journey, unique to each individual.

I use a variety of approaches in my practice to facilitate the discovery of meaning in transition including:

ARTS THERAPY – MUSIC THERAPY

DREAM WORK

MANDALA ANALYSIS

GUIDED IMAGERY, SOUND AND MUSIC

VOICE WORK

ECOTHERAPY

DEEP RELAXATION SESSIONS

Sessions are 60 – 90 minutes and aimed at adults and some teenagers. My practice is located in a beautiful garden studio in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa. Please click here to book a session.

Let Creativity Work For You – Building teams and gaining perspective with art and music

I have facilitated creative processes drawing on music therapy, arts-based learning and experiential learning at corporates, schools, universities and NGO’s in Cape Town. While these workshops/sessions fulfil different purposes depending on the client, they are playful, creative, non-invasive and ultimately offer new or different perspectives and insights.

The workshops are most often used for team-building, personal development and conflict management. However, more bespoke or tailored options are available too, such as a workshop for women in leadership or self-care workshops for employees.

The sessions are unique, drawing from my own interest and expertise in a variety of therapeutic, creative and healing modalities, including music therapy, as listed on the home page. Sessions will usually include a number of elements, including (for example) sensitively facilitated active music making, such as djembe drumming, as well as music listening and relaxation and also art-based processes that may include pastel, paint or collage work. These creative modalities offer employees, executives or students different ways of relating to one another and different ways of thinking about problems. The Full Circle is a creative space, offering enjoyment, insight and relationship.

To enquire about a group workshop at a company, NGO, school or university, click here.

What is Music Therapy?

Music is a profoundly powerful tool for connecting us to one another, to our emotions and to a sense of meaning. Qualified music therapists operate across the globe, including the tip of Africa, Cape Town.

Music therapy is the clinical use of music interventions and music experiences to achieve therapeutic goals, promote health and realise potentials. Music therapy is focused on the process of music experiences and the relationships developed through them.  Despite the name, musical training is not required; this is because all human beings respond to basic elements of music. Music therapy can provide opportunities for communication when words are insufficient and it can assist in releasing and exploring emotions. Like other therapists, music therapists encourage, provide support for and offer guidance to their clients.

Music therapists are allied health care professionals registered with the HPCSA. Music therapists in South Africa hold a Masters degree in Music Therapy and have completed at minimum 1000 hours of supervised clinical internships at various placement sites. Music therapy techniques are highly adaptable and are suitable for use with a wide variety of clients including adults, teenagers, the elderly, children and even antenatal or end-of-life care.

What can a client expect to do in music therapy?

  • Music improvisation, using instruments and/or voice
  • Drumming
  • Music listening
  • Therapeutic singing
  • Songwriting
  • Verbal processing and reflection
  • Movement to music
  • Reminiscence-based music experiences
  • Guided Imagery and Music/music visualisation experiences
  • Creative Processes involving music (including drawing, clay and painting)

Book an appointment with Melissa Ellse (MMus, Music Therapy) by clicking here.

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My brief foray into Dystonia: should we be ‘prescribing’ music therapy?

Music therapy can help patients with movement disorders improve motor functioning, improve mood, decrease anxiety, express and process emotions, acknowledge and confront their illness or symptoms, develop a stable identity and improve motivation for therapy.

Recently, I experienced an episode of dystonia, out of the blue, completely unexpected and rare in my case. Dystonia is a movement disorder. Muscles contract involuntarily and can spasm, often in repetitive motion, tremor and may cause the patient to physically twist.

Initially, I was intrigued. Being a music therapist, I have seen dystonic spasms and contractions in patients.  Before I was even worried for myself, I marvelled at how my body could contract, fold up, and move about like it had a mind of its own.

Soon the intrigue wore off. The uncontrolled, intensive and intrusive spasms in my face, trunk, neck and hands became tiring. All this movement. All this contraction. I could keep the contractions mostly at bay for short periods, enough to have a coffee at one of my favourite spots with a friend, although the twitches around my face, lips in particular, were still present. It was worse for me at night. When I became tired I lost the energy I needed to exert whatever control I could muster to restrain the spasms and contractions. My body would automatically seize up and contort in ways I didn’t think possible! I would lie awake for hours just being with these contortions.

I got tired. I got scared. And then I got emotional. Even my emotions stopped playing ball and ambushed me with unexpected bouts of sadness, seemingly rooted in the trauma of experiencing such an unusual degree of loss of control of my body.

man falling dystonia music therapy

About Dystonia

Dystonia is a movement disorder. Muscles contract involuntarily and can spasm, often in repetitive, rhythmical motion and may cause the patient to twist. Dystonia is sometimes painful and it may affect one’s speech. Dystonia can severely disrupt one’s lifestyle, work, social life and ability to care for oneself, depending on the severity. It can also affect one’s self-esteem, one’s sense of personal power and leave one feeling fearful. Understandably, dystonia may lead to depression, feelings of hopelessness and negative emotions because of a lack of agency and control over one’s body. Dystonia can be distressing for the patient and for the family.

As many as 250,000 people in the United States have dystonia, making it the third most common movement disorder behind essential tremor and Parkinson’s disease. It is a condition that knows no age, ethnic or racial boundaries – it can affect young children to older adults of all races and ethnicities.

https://www.aans.org/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Dystonia

There are many causes for dystonia including:


My brief experience brought to my full attention the plight of many with symptoms of dystonia. Being a music therapist, I couldn’t help but be keenly aware of the specialised and effective interventions music therapy has to offer.

Should we be treating patients with movement disorders with more clinical music-making? Should we be ‘prescribing’ music?

Fortunately, my dystonic episode was short-lived. While it was uncomfortable, there was a great deal to learn. In my brief experience of dystonia, I tried my best to experiment with music therapy techniques and exercises. I found that while playing the piano, my symptoms were almost non-existent.  I also found that specialised music therapy exercises using vocals and tongue (or relevant body part) movement, as well as music and full body engagement exercises led to a feeling of increased agency, relief and control over my body. While I have worked with patients with dystonia, this experience afforded me an unbelievable window into the difficulty that some of these patients experience, as well as a clearer view as to how music therapy techniques are uniquely placed to offer relief, rehabilitation and experiences of freedom that may not be otherwise possible.

The research supports my experience: the brighter side of music in dystonia’ shows how playing the piano, can cause an “instant and complete improvement” in dystonia symptoms. This finding was unexpected because symptoms of dystonia are expected to worsen with activity. Piano playing — an active music making experience — seems to have a paradoxical effect.
Music therapists are able to treat dystonia at a musical-therapeutic level.

Music therapists view human beings musically. Our breathing is rhythm, our voices melody, our tone timbre, our way of speaking articulation, our movement form, for example. Repetitive twists and spasms can be viewed as musical events and be treated using clinical musical interventions. Music therapy, the clinical use of music processes, interventions and exercises in the music therapy relationship, can have an ordering, relieving and empowering function.

Rhythm, often with melody, used in music therapy are powerful forces for drawing the patient into a sequence of controlled rhythmic movements. Music therapists and the particular music therapy techniques helps to motivate, encourage and reward controlled movements, sometimes allowing for extended range of motion or more controlled movements.</strong> Music therapy techniques also allow a client to use their bodies more intentionally and to develop a different relationship with their body, pain or discomfort. 

Because of the musical nature of the therapy, the patient may naturally or automatically feel an inherent motivation to complete the therapeutic movement within the musical frame.  Difficult therapy sessions can be  made easier for the patient, even more enjoyable, by the medium of music, and may increases patient motivation to take part in therapy. 

We all have an innate understanding of the ability (the “power”) of music to prompt movement, restraint, expression and relief. Music therapists are highly trained and skilled in using music clinically, deliberately and specifically to work toward therapeutic goals in a way that music uniquely offers.

The transferability of these techniques into the patient’s life show great promise in the cutting edge research and practice coming out of Neurologic Music Therapy. These music therapy techniques give patients with dystonia hope and allow them to recognise that even with their symptoms, they can yet experience a measure of control and selfhood.

A music therapist will require that you have seen a medical doctor if you present with dystonia. There are also pharmacological treatment options, that should be explored. In extreme cases of dystonia or related conditions, music therapy addressing dystonia should be provided multiple times per week in order for neuroplastic rehabilitation to take place. There is a great deal research on music therapy and related disorders, including Parkinson’s, Huntington’s Disease, and many more.

We all have an innate understanding of the ability of music to move us, prompt physical movement, restraint, expression and relief. Music therapists are highly trained and skilled in using music clinically and deliberately to achieve therapeutic goals and are doing such work worldwide, including in Cape Town, South Africa.

What do you think? Should doctors be ‘prescribing’ music making for patients with dystonia?

What would you want as part of your treatment protocol if you experienced Dystonia?

Share this page with anyone whom you think may benefit from music therapy, or who might like to know more. If you want to book a music therapy session or consultation, please email me via the contact form, clicking here.

Melissa Ellse holds a Bachelor of Music (University of Cape Town) and a Masters in Music Therapy (cum laude, University of Pretoria). She is a part-time lecturer in music therapy at the University of Cape Town and a research supervisor at the University of Pretoria. She practices as a registered music therapist in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town. She is registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA reg no AT 0001350).