Stella Compton Dickinson, editor
This is an edited extract from Forensic Music Therapy: A Treatment for Men and Women in Secure Hospital Settings edited by Stella Compton Dickinson, Helen Odell-Miller and John Adlam. This case study comes from Chapter 7, ‘Working with Conflict: A Summary of Developments in the Long-term Treatment of a Man Suffering with Paranoid Schizophrenia Who Committed Manslaughter’, by Stella Compton Dickinson and Manjit Gahir.
This chapter describes the process of long-term music therapy over seven years with a man who we shall call “Ewan.” Ewan has given informed consent for case material to be used in telling the story of his rehabilitation; his real name has not been used. Ewan suffered with paranoid schizophrenia and whilst actively psychotic with hallucinations and delusions, he killed a man.
Committed to hospital for an indefinite period after being convicted of the offence, Ewan spent ten years in high secure detention without undertaking therapy until he requested a referral to music therapy, “to learn to play the violin” as his grandfather had done. He engaged in music therapy as his main psychological treatment. The intervention and its impact were new to the clinical team who had to adjust to the fact that internal changes were starting to happen for a patient who they had known to be static for many years. Thus their own past experiences, their judgments of Ewan in the face of fear when he had erupted with violent outbursts, and their perceptions for his future were all challenged.
Ewan’s fundamentally chaotic presentation was marked by fixed perseveration, which is typical of schizophrenia. Notable in his early musical improvisations were repeated, stuck, desperate, and stabbing sounding attacks on the piano keys. This represented exactly his situation and offence: angry, locked in, stuck, as if he had nowhere to turn. The therapeutic work required orientation to the here and now, rather than unlocking too much past material at once. Nevertheless, Ewan recognized how he could receive rather than reject my non verbal musical support. This elicited a maternal transference. Towards the end of the second assessment session, Ewan rushed from the room, having exclaimed his recognition within our musical improvisation that “you are supporting me! I have not felt like that since I was with my mother.”
The significance of this was central to the therapy as Ewan had been unable to mourn the death of his biological mother. He returned explaining that this experience had “brought a tear to my eye.”
Starting the treatment process
Ewan had never experienced any previous psychological therapy at all, so the same weekly place and time was an entirely new experience for him, which he almost religiously observed. As the therapy progressed, he became more proactive in ensuring that regular physical health appointments were not timetabled to coincide, as nothing had to come between him and his music-making. Over time, as he became more trusting in the continuity of his life and less fearful of sudden abandonment, he gradually extended his range and felt safe to play the piano on his own rather than with me. Ewan began to take responsibility for his own actions rather than remaining over-identified with his own victim self-state.
The mother–child dyad and symbolic musical representations
In session 12, Ewan elucidated on his feelings of stupidity and how he played on these as a childhood strategy. He said he had taken to “acting stupid” whenever he felt threatened by his father. The mother–son relationship was enacted symbolically as a maternal transference developed. The merged relationship that developed between Ewan and his biological mother during childhood was cemented when both mother and son cowered from the violence and physical abuse of the father. This relationship was represented musically in session 2 in which initially Ewan played mournfully on the recorder, copying my choice of instrument, then merging with it and introducing a sensual, rocking rhythmic pulsation which indicated an as yet unconscious underlying erotic transference. The music then became violent and angry as Ewan repeatedly hit a small glockenspiel as if he was a frustrated child waiting for dinner. This had a direct correlation to verbal material in which Ewan described the intimacy and frustrations that he felt with his mother. After this the music became mournful and sad although it finished in a resolved, harmonious fashion.
The index offence: developing victim empathy
In reference to the man who he had killed, Ewan attempted to make an offering in musical terms by sitting at the piano to play a piece which he entitled “Requiem.” At the time this felt sincere but also very sad, as I perceived that Ewan felt very clumsy and inadequate in trying to address such a huge and tragic event. From this state, the first expressions of remorse at the magnitude of his violent act began to emerge. Perhaps the fluctuations between reflecting on his offence and reflecting on his childhood suggested how Ewan was trying to make links in understanding why he had committed his offence.
The individual music therapy was characterized largely by a positive transference. Ewan completed his mourning process in the following two years of group therapy where he discovered how to be part of a “family,” as well as how to feel included and valued by others. He remains in custodial care at a lower level of security. At his care program review as the therapy closed, he described his recovery process in music therapy as “akin to the raising of Lazarus.” This biblical reference to Christ’s greatest miracle probably says at least as much about Ewan’s internal morbid state of loss, including loss of hope prior to engagement in music therapy, as it does about his creativity and ability to express himself and to develop through music therapy in a way which, after ten years of stagnation, he may have felt was miraculous.
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012