It Begins With The Body

People who come into therapy have often (arguably always) been traumatised. This may be an overt traumatic incident or more subtle and complex traumas over a period of time. Often, the trauma is in childhood and possibly outside of our ability to recall or consciously work with. Sometimes, we repress traumatic memories, even in adulthood. Trauma blocks our connection with ourselves by disrupting the connection between our minds and bodies and disallowing connection between various parts of ourselves. This means fragmentation is always around the corner and estrangement from one’s own self may become a familiar experience.

The body is where we begin. The body holds an immense amount of knowledge and tries to communicate with us all the time. However, we are frequently so shut off to our body’s intelligence, that we live in a conceptual, intellectual, ego-consciousness state of being. As if everything that exists and is of import in our journey is upward of the neck. This is untrue.

Our bodies hold vast wisdom and memory, storing information from nourishing and meaningful events but also storing trauma, holding it for us until we can look at it. Until we are able to bring our mind and body together – to engage the trauma on a bodily level – trauma held in the body may manifest all kinds of symptoms such as diagnosable illness, inexplicable symptoms, depression, anxiety, rage, fear, tight muscles, postural difficulties, sexual problems, addictions, loss of confidence and more. So many people coming into body-based therapy cannot feel their bodies, and definitely cannot feel their feelings in their bodies.

This is a slow process of learning to reclaim the body, to become aware of it’s existence, what it actually is, and to form a relationship with it. To learn to listen to it and allow the inner dialogue between mind and body to continue unimpeded by blocks.

For individuals who have suffered trauma, the body can be a frightening place. A place to escape from – not to. The body may have let us down or even turned against us, and coming into relationship with it may be overwhelming. However, verbal dialogue without the complement of coming into one’s own body can stay simply conceptual. However, verbal psychotherapy with body-based, non-verbal therapies can also be of great assistance to those are are trying to come home to their bodies and take control – a way to conceptually and emotionally process the increasing awareness of the body.

Breathing, trauma-informed yoga, cold water therapy and similar practices, when facilitated professionally, are non-invasive yet powerful ways of coming into the body.

The body is where we begin. If you are interested in body-based therapy or body-based therapy complementing psychotherapy – a brilliant combination of processing styles – please click here.

A Brief Rationale for an Integrative Approach

Music therapist integrative therapy Cape Town  Melissa Ellse
Integrative Therapy in Cape Town with Melissa Ellse

We are all unique 🌟

An integrative therapeutic approach draws thoughtfully from various theories, methods and techniques based on the individual’s strengths, needs and concerns.


There is no one-size-fits-all. It simply does not exist. Every single encounter we have with one another is both meaningful and unique. This is because we are human and beautifully complex.


I’ve learned this first hand in my own therapeutic processes, which is why I strive to be integrative, intuitive and informed in my approach. And my approach will probably not work for everyone, because we are all unique 🌟 and that is truly wonderful.

To find out more, click here.

Are substance-free psychedelic experiences possible?

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Short answer: yes.

Longer answer: I have encountered surprisingly many people (older, younger and from all walks of life) who want to experience something of the the mind-manifesting nature of psychedelics without taking a substance. Some people are averse to the idea of substance-induced altered states of consciousness from pre-conceived ideas about “drugs”, some cannot explore any mind altering substances because of medications or psychological predispositions. Some don’t want to get entangled in something that is not legal. Some simply don’t like the idea of ingesting anything that affects their consciousness so profoundly. Some prefer to be in control. Some are fearful. These are all valid concerns.

Yet still, such individuals seek a transcendent (possibly spiritual) encounter that is different to everyday, waking life and that offers up something deeper, possibly holding more meaning, truth and authenticity than their ‘ordinary’ reality. In my experience, these individuals are usually on a voyage of self-exploration, igniting creativity, navigating a life transition and/or discovering meaning in life. My hope-filled and honest response is always yes, there certainly are ways to enter altered states of consciousness without any substances or plant medicines.

Psychedelic literally means ‘mind-manifesting’ or ‘mind-expanding’, the Greek root is psyche (mind, soul) dêlos (manifest, visible). Meditation is one avenue to such experiences, yet this usually takes a great deal of practice before potentially experiencing anything of a psychedelic nature. Still, I highly recommend a steady meditation practice for many, many reasons which I won’t address here. To get started with a meditation practice, the following apps are very useful: https://wakingup.com/ or https://www.headspace.com/.

I work with music and deep relaxation into an altered state of consciousness, eliciting imagery in the mind’s eye that allows the ‘traveller’ transcendent, even psychedelic-type experiences. However, the ‘traveller’ also retains complete personal control and is able to effortlessly emerge from the experience at any point. No substances or plant medicines are used and they do not need to be in order for the process to be effective. Guided Imagery and Music is a technique developed by Helen Bonny after working alongside the renown psychedelic researcher Stanislov Grof in LSD trials of the sixties. Bonny developed a “non-drug, psychedelic technique of music-listening for psychotherapeutic ends.”

This music-listening technique takes place in a 1.5 hour session, the traveller comfortably lying on a couch in an undisturbed, safe and comfortable setting (such as a therapist’s room). During the session, the guide will talk with the client/traveller and work toward setting an intention for the journey. A specific music program that relates directly to the traveller’s mental set and intention – a music program designed to elicit imagery, emotions, memories and even sensations – is selected by the guide. The traveller is taken through a deepening relaxation induction and reminded of their intention. When the selected music plays, the traveller journeys with the music in this deepened, relaxed and in fact altered state of consciousness.

Imagery, storylines and emotions may appear, sometimes sensations and memories, all emerging from the unconscious mind and guided by the music. During this process, the traveller is always free to ‘come out’ of the experience, should they want to. This is unlike a substance-based psychedelic experience, such as a psilocybin journey, where one is locked into the journey until the substance/medicine wears off. The guide asks questions and helps to deepen and intensify the experience. Afterward, the traveller makes marks on paper (creates a mandala), which is a creative output that helps to solidify and integrate the journey and is used for verbally processing the experience.

Guided Imagery and Music sessions are usually conducted once a week over a period of time, as personal narratives, archetypal material and images from the unconscious are developed and worked with.

If you are interested in exploring your consciousness through an alternative, experiential and substance-free way, click here. Offered in Cape Town, South Africa.

Note: BMGIM guides require extensive and rigorous training. I am currently in advanced training in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music.

Grinding Into The Pain

Embracing Pain

What happens when Pain visits a little too often, a little too long? Like an obnoxious guest who overstays her welcome, talking and talking without listening, eating and eating without offering. Well perhaps this is uncomfortable, but just bearable. After all, it is not all that uncommon. And then perhaps, what if Pain decides to visit a great deal too often and a great deal too long? What if the visitor decides not to leave? What if the talking and the eating just don’t stop – on and on and on. What are we to do then? What happens when we are held hostage?

Do we have any control over pain’s inevitable and suffocating visitations? According to the Stoic Epictetus,

Some things are in our control, while others are not. We control our opinion, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything of our own doing. We don’t control our body, property, reputation, position, and, in a word, everything not of our own doing. Even more, the things in our control are by nature free, unhindered and unobstructed, while those not in our control are weak, slavish, can be hindered, and are not our own.

Epictetus, Enchiridion, 1.1-2

The pain of loss, grief, depression, neurochemistry, external events such as motor car accidents and more – these are not in our control. This may be disheartening or even crushing when fully realised. Why am I forced to sit by while Pain visits the full reign of hell upon me? Why am I not allowed to eject Pain, to revoke visitation rights? How can I escape? Why am I not even permitted to escape my own home with what little I have left? This is a brutal invasion!

As the Stoic relates, the sense of control sought in our bitter fight against Pain is won in our thinking, our choices and our exposure to that which will help us reframe our attitude toward our relationship with pain. Ultimately, our gains are made in our own relationship with and to pain. To those experiencing true, unadulterated suffering, this idea may be received as trite or it may even be impossible to imagine. However, even where chronic mental, emotional or physical pain are involved, the ‘Enemy’ that is Pain can change into something new, something more approachable, something we can negotiate with and engage with in a more balanced relationship. Pain does not have to remain the Enemy, it can become the Teacher, the Healer, even the Beatific Vision. Never losing it’s identity as Pain, and never lessening or coming under our control, Pain’s visits – even those long, excruciating and seemingly never-ceasing visits, can be experienced differently, without fear and without loss of control. The transformation and growth, even healing, that Pain can bring – if we let it – is illustrated in the lines below.

What is pain but a reminder that we are

grinding into the ground

flung into the fight

grating against the wound

slicing into the light

walking the two worlds

lost in daylight, found in night

taking the clean medicine

gaining vision, losing sight.

There are practical steps to forging this new relationship with pain. These really depend on the individual, but in general it is not an overnight process. Meditative practices, including mindfulness techniques and yoga help many. Exercise and diet/nutrition – as insufficient as that seems in the face of enormous pain – can play a large role in re-negotiating your relationship with Pain. Broadly, relationships, spirituality, talking, creating, music, nature and stillness are all ways to explore this different way of relating to Pain.

I wish you well on your journey. For more information on renegotiating your relationship with Pain, contact me by clicking here.

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.

Why do we ‘use’ music?

Music Therapy, Health and Self-Medication

Many of us self-medicate with music yet if asked we may not be aware that this is what we are doing. It seems we intuitively know we need music and most of us are particular about what, when and how we engage in music experiences. These six points briefly detail why we ‘use’ music, and why it is such a potent medication:

  1. Music reflects, magnifies and connects with that which is greater than me, the individual. Through music experiences, I can be connected to others, to community, to purpose, to shared values, to the spiritual and the collective unconscious.
  2. Music reflects, magnifies and connects to that which is within me. Through music experiences, I can witness and experience the complexity of my emotions and psychological states, even my thoughts. I experience myself differently.
  3. Music is a temporal form. Concrete, uninterrupted time is essentially and vitally linked to experiencing music as an art form. This means that through music experiences, I experience myself in time. This also means that through music experiences, I can experience time differently and experience myself differently in time.
  4. Linked to the above point, music has an ordering function. This means that through music experiences, I can experience myself as moving in an ordered manner through time, continuously unfolding, organised, with a beginning and an ending.
  5. Music reflects and magnifies the complexities of life, which may be too subtle and nuanced to notice or make sense of, or too difficult and complex to pay attention to.
  6. Music adds context and continuity to life. Emotions are magnified when music adds context, allowing me to deepen, release or clarify my response.

Music is powerfully transformative as a healing modality. There is no trite or simple explanation how or why, as both music and the human brain are infinitely complex phenomena. I encourage my clients to pay attention to how they respond to different kinds of music as a way to ignite interest and intuition in this area and I certainly promote self-medication with music!

 

38204344_1833578016724375_7769933706361307136_o (1)Melissa Ellse, registered music therapist, completed a Bachelor of Music (University of Cape Town) followed by a Masters in Music Therapy (cum laude, University of Pretoria). She is registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA reg no AT 0001350) as well as the South African Music Therapists Association (SAMTA) and the South African National Association for Arts Therapists (SANATA).

Book an appointment with Melissa Ellse by clicking here.