Stella Compton Dickinson developed new techniques for music therapy in high-security forensic psychiatry group settings. Her book, The Clinicians Guide to Forensic Music therapy co-authored with Dutch music therapist Laurien Haakvoort sets out valuable guidelines for this most difficult of practices and describes how 100% of their patients saw distinct improvements in social function and 78% of them were rated for lower security care within a few months of completing her treatment program. Stella’s Cognitive Analytic Music Therapy techniques are more practically orientated than psychoanalytically informed practices and work much more with what is good and capable in a person than with what caused the offence or is felt to be wrong within them. Stella Compton Dickinson has been using Sounding Bowls at all levels of care since before she developed this program and finds them highly valuable to her work. In the section of the manual below, taken from page 139/140 she describes how each member of a group develops a “Sound Print” that becomes their voice in the group. Each individual chooses an instrument to discover their own sound print with. As Stella writes below that Sounding Bowls were the most popular choice of hand held instruments and that the:
“gradual building up of sensory experiences, … occurred most effectively in the use of the Sounding Bowl, (which offers) a form of safe but intimate contact … which led to shared experiences.”
Each individual also made a choice for their unique ‘sound print’ – a favourite instrument, a sound with which they particularly resonated. The G-CAMT research treatment manual was developed from this second pilot project.
WHAT IS THE SOUND PRINT?
The sound print is a unique technique that is novel to G-CAMT. The sound print is a descriptive name which can be applied by each participant to their preferential sound and choice of instrument, their unique resonance which can be developed over the course of treatment in how each group becomes recognised by others in the group through their musical ‘voice’ as their sense of musical identity develops over the course of the sixteen session treatment. The purpose of the sound print is to help the patient to relate to sounds with which he can recognise that he feels an affinity – in effect a vibrational and relational ‘resonance.
Table 5.4 shows the intensity of use of the instruments that patients chose as their sound prints over 16 sessions of G-CAMT. This table shows the sound print choices of intensity of use over the 16 sessions of the ten patients receiving G-CAMT in the Randomised Controlled Trial (Compton Dickinson 2015).
Of the hand held instruments, the Sounding Bowl is most popular; of the large instruments the range of hand drums is most popular. These instruments facilitate tactile engagement without raising pre-conceived expectations because they represent novel and yet safe engagement by which exploration can begin.
The sounding bowl is an instrument that is made exclusively in the USA, UK and Austria by Tobias Kaye and his licensed makers (www.soundingbowls.com). There are numerous anecdotal reports of their effectiveness in music therapy, for example, in working towards reducing dissociation and promoting emotional recognition. (Compton Dickinson 2013).
Compton Dickinson (2015, p175) completed a detailed qualitative analysis with triangulation, concluding that the Sounding bowl combined resonance, visual and tactile qualities that facilitated positive relating strategies. She further states that the gradual building up of sensory experiences, through seeing, touching, smelling and then hearing, may be considered to equate with scaffold learning in CAT (Ryle and Kerr 2002), and that occurred most effectively in the use of the Sounding Bowl, because a dialogical exchange and a form of safe but intimate contact was possible with the Sounding Bowl, which led to shared experiences.
"The Clinicians Guide to Forensic Music therapy" Stella Compton Dickinson and Laurien Hakvoort, foreword by Helen Odell-Miller. Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2017
I have found the Sounding Bowl particularly useful in my music therapy practice which is principally based at Rowcroft Hospice in Torquay. When I was first asked to visit people at home I was at a loss what to do. Part of my way of working is to give clients a wide choice of musical modes of expression. Eventually I decided to take just a Sounding Bowl. This was an inspired choice. The beauty of the bowl and it’s captivating tone immediately broke the ice and opened hearts. The whole family gathered round and became involved.
A Sounding Bowl is often a useful introduction to music therapy: Music in our culture is for the trained, in contrast to countries where music-making is a cultural norm. in this context a Sounding Bowl becomes a bridge into music therapy; It is almost like people forget it is “an instrument” then they find they are making music. This draws people out of themselves. The Sounding Bowl typically opens hearts. No other instrument elicits quite the same response.
A beautiful story from just recently: There was a man on the ward in the Hospice where I work who was deeply depressed and withdrawn, Wanted to die. He often sat with his head in his hands. I sat with him on several occasions wondering what we could do, he not being able to leave his bed. Eventually I suggested I bring in a guitar and a Sounding Bowl. Instruments he had not taken seriously on previous occasions. To my surprise he agreed. I took them in, improvised very briefly on the Sounding Bowl and passed it over.
An immediate transformation occurred. He sat fully upright, became animated and we began a wonderful improvisation. Afterwards I could tell the depth of the effect by the fact that words were not needed. We sat for a while in silence. After that he did begin to talk more about spiritual things. He became more open with his wife, apologised for being closed to the spiritual sides of their life. He began having talks with the Chaplain.
After the Chaplain’s last visit this man waved him off through the window, and a few seconds later he died along side his wife.
Julian O’Kelly, RMTh. Using a 10 string Melody Bowl
The Methodist Homes Association provides care homes, retirement villages and dementia care at all levels for our ageing population. Music therapy has proven itself so effective in these situations that the MHA has set a target of providing this service in every home. In the roll-out of this they are employing larger and larger numbers of registered music therapists. They have also set the aim of getting a Sounding Bowl for each home in which a music therapist is available. Sounding Bowls reach people when other instruments fail and encourage a depth of feeling in such interactions that other instruments do not always achieve. At Sounding Bowls we are proud to be making batches of Melody Bowls for the MHA.
“I regard the Sounding Bowl as essential to my work in palliative care. It’s sensitivities as an instrument, the beauty of it’s shape and texture of it’s surface all add to it’s personal qualities that are recognised and used to great effect by all people who play it. I use the Sounding Bowl at many levels from relaxation sessions through to delicately balanced work with people who are nearing death.~ Beautifully crafted and powerful instruments.”
(Dr Colin Lee RMTh in the book Lonely Waters)
He uses two Sounding Bowls, a 7 string and a 14 str. Melody Bowl
Dr Colin Lee
I work as music therapist with adult cancer patients at an oncology rehabilitation centre in Stockholm, Sweden.
I have a deep style, fan strung Sounding Bowl and find this instrument very powerful in use.
Beautiful, comfortable to hold, permissive, it actually invites you to play!
The Sounding Bowl can be played in many ways – from lightly strumming all strings in the slow swing of a lullaby to sharp plucking on a single string or even singing into it, closely facing the bowl.
Just holding the bowl can evoke feelings of comfort and care, often unspoken needs of struggling patients.
Filling the silent empty bowl with sound and hearing the hollow resounding, is an experience of great symbolic significance for many patients.
The Sounding Bowl helps create a “sound-space”. The “sound-space” supports a “holding environment” and may present an excellent focus for the client to explore.
Anne Olofsson, Stockholm, Sweden.
I kept meaning to email you last year not long after I got my sounding bowl from you, but here at last is a wee story… When I met you last year at your stall at the the BAMT conference, I was very burned out with dealing with a lot of trauma in my work. I was just about to hand in my notice working for NHS mental health services. Not long after we met, I had this dream that I had arrived at a retreat house where I go on the West coast (usually to be creative and write music theatre). I was carrying this heavy electronic piano that I used to wheel round the hospital grounds, doing my back in. I arrived to find you there. I asked if I could put the piano down now, and you said “yes you can.” A turning point dream!
Thank you for turning up just at the right time…
Katherine Bruce RMTH
Who uses a 9 string Heart Bowl and claims it has transformed her NHS music therapy work.
I have found the Sounding Bowl particularly useful in my music therapy practice which is principally based at Rowcroft Hospice in Torquay. When I was first asked to visit people at home I was at a loss what to do. Part of my way of working is to give clients a wide choice of musical modes of expression. Eventually I decided to take just a Sounding Bowl.
This was an inspired choice. The beauty of the bowl and it’s captivating tone immediately broke the ice and opened hearts. The whole family gathered round and became involved.
A Sounding Bowl is often a useful introduction to music therapy: Music in our culture is for the trained, in contrast to countries where music-making is a cultural norm. In this context a Sounding Bowl becomes a bridge into music therapy; It is almost like people forget it is “an instrument” then they find they are making music. This draws people out of themselves.
The Sounding Bowl typically opens hearts. No other instrument elicits quite the same response.
A beautiful story from just recently: There was a man on the ward in the Hospice where I work who was deeply depressed and withdrawn, Wanted to die. He often sat with his head in his hands.
I sat with him on several occasions wondering what we could do, he not being able to leave his bed. Eventually I suggested I bring in a guitar and a Sounding Bowl. Instruments he had not taken seriously on previous occasions. To my surprise he agreed.
I took them in, improvised very briefly on the Sounding Bowl and passed it over.
An immediate transformation occurred. He sat fully upright, became animated and we began a wonderful improvisation. Afterwards I could tell the depth of the effect by the fact that words were not needed. We sat for a while in silence.
After that he did begin to talk more about spiritual things. He became more open with his wife, apologised for being closed to the spiritual sides of their life. He began having talks with the Chaplain.
After the Chaplain’s last visit this man waved him off through the window, and a few seconds later he died along side his wife.
Julian O’Kelly, RMTh. Using a 10 string Melody Bowl
Julian O’Kelly, RMTh.
“ I am deeply moved by the impact of ‘Sheila the Healer’ as our clients have christened the Sounding Bowl. She has taken our work into dimensions beyond formal music therapy and into that of vibrational healing; The tactile and aesthetic qualities as well as the sheer beauty of the sound have led to deeper levels of emotional engagement than were previously possible. This really helps to facilitate the therapeutic process”
Stella Compton, Head of Arts therapies, at a secure hospital in England,
using a 10 string Melody Bowl.
Stella Compton, Head of Arts therapies, at a secure hospital in England
As a tree surgeon it was interesting for me have a look at your work – the Sounding Bowls are absolutely exquisite, and seemed to have quite an effect on me. Driving home I was feeling very calm and thoughtful, thinking about what I’d seen & heard. I was pondering how something so delicate with such purity of tone could be the result of a raucous process begun with a chainsaw, chipper and a felling wedge. Then I got to thinking about how the bowls you’ll make from that tree are currently contained within the wood – as if the idea of them exists within the wood, waiting for you to imagine them & tease them out. That’s quite a thought.
What really struck me is the clarity and purity of the sound, when contrasted with the racket we make when we’re working on trees with chainsaw and chipper. It’s very pleasing to know that the result of all that noise and mayhem can result in something so calming.
Rob Scholefield is tree manager for a housing co-operative in Devon
As a music therapist it is interesting to observe how clients approach the Sounding Bowl: They are immediately taken by its appearance and intrigued
by its distinctive feel. They show such respect and warmth towards it.
This is enhanced further as they play; they become absorbed by the sounds and led into an unknown yet exciting musical journey.
The Sounding Bowl provides immediate access to a shared interaction in which both therapist and client are guided by the sounds themselves.
James Robertson, Nordoff Robbins, University of Edinburgh, Scotland
… the sounding bowl continues to have beneficial effects in emotional regulation where other instruments do not make an impact.
Ms. S. Dickinson, registered music therapist.
Using a 10 string Melody Bowl.
Ms S Dickinson
…as I played I saw white light pouring from the bowl in my hands and flowing into the audience. It was flowing into the heart of each person present bringing different kinds of healing according to the need of each one. I stood up and walked around the whole audience playing as I went and the white light continued to pour out of the bowl and into each heart. One person had her eyes open. she came to me afterwards and told me all about it: exactly the same as I saw. I was amazed and feel that the Sounding Bowl will be a very useful healing tool in my practice.
Ron Heyes. Healer, Liverpool.
Using a 12 string Lyre Bowl
This instrument is particularly helpful to the heart forces in our children; the circle shape seems to contribute to the effect and opens up their breathing. That we can place such a fine instrument on their laps without fear of them breaking it means they can experience the music vibrating through their whole body.
Caroline Poynder Meares, eurythmy-colour-light therapist St Chrisophers’ School, Bristol.
Using a 15 string Melody Bowl.
Caroline Poynder Meares
“I regard the Sounding Bowl as essential to my work in palliative care. It’s sensitivities as an instrument, the beauty of it’s shape and texture of it’s surface all add to it’s personal qualities that are recognised and used to great effect by all people who play it. I use the Sounding Bowl at many levels from relaxation sessions through to delicately balanced work with people who are nearing death.~ Beautifully crafted and powerful instruments. I now use mine 2-3 hours every day at least.”
“I can’t imagine music therapy in palliative care without one”
Dr Colin Lee RMTh, Oxford
Dr. lee uses two, a 7 string and a 14 str. Melody Bowl
Dr Colin Lee
It is quite wonderful what you have brought into the world through this amazing instrument. At St. Raphael’s Hospice it continues to delight and bring joy to those who let go their inhibitions and pluck one string, and then another. Their faces light up. In a moment of creation something has changed for them.
Most people listen to music but never have the chance to be actively involved in making it.
This is the magic of the Sounding Bowls that a person takes it on their lap and makes a sound. The sound goes right through them, they can feel it in their legs, the vibration that comes through into them affects the whole body, it often brings tears to their eyes.
One client I had cannot speak, cannot see. On first touching a string, feeling that sound he simply burst into tears.
Barbara Mundy, St. Raphael’s Hospice
“I am sure you will be pleased to hear that we have fallen passionately in love with the Sounding Bowl. I have started using it in clinical work with people with neuropsychiatric problems – it’s wonderful to work with”.
Anne England, Music Therapist, Surrey
Using a 7 string Melody Bowl
The (multiply handicapped) children I work with can respond to the Sounding Bowl and even initiate musical sounds in a way that is impossible with nearly any other instrument. When I first got the Sounding Bowl one of the boys who had not responded to anything else before spent the entire session touching, feeling then playing the Sounding Bowl.
Julie H. music therapist, Warwickshire.
Using a 12 string ‘crosstrung’ style.
The Sounding Bowl is working particularly well with a young PMLD man I’ve been working with for a year and a half. He ‘cooed’ throughout the whole session vocalising in a much more sustained way than he ever has before -very exciting.
He loves it. Thanks.
Tamsin, a professional music therapist in Wales
It has come! And is without doubt the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. The sound is exquisite. I am completely overwhelmed. Yes, it is a cathedral, astonishing. I have taken it round the hospital and people have marvelled, been strangely quiet, touched it’s strings, welcomed it. I feel it become part of our dreaming fabric.
Alyson Carter RMTh Scotland.
Using a 15 string Melody Bowl
Alyson Carter RMTh
“For all its beautiful looks, the Sounding Bowl is acoustically a creature of the night, and comes in to its own when darkness and quiet descend. I do not know if you are familiar with Indian music, but it has rather the same soothing effect as the opening section of an evening raga~ I have tried playing it in ‘reciprocal mode’, tapping it gently and letting the strings vibrate sympathetically. Different tapping positions can excite different string combinations to resonance, so I can obtain a range of sounds. I have also tried tapping the strings very gently at differing positions along their length. If you hit the right spot, you can excite high overtones and produce rather aethereal sounds.”
(From a private user in Bath)
An anonymous user in Bath
Just a brief note to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the “Soul Bowl” . It is really a magic bowl. I am finding that not only does it help to bring up into consciousness and reflect back to me what is deeply in me, but also it mediates to me in a wonderful way my creativity and inspiration. Through it a dialogue becomes possible with very deep levels.
(From a folk musician in Gloucestershire)
An anonymous user in Bath
The bowl you sent me continues to calm and inspire so many of my students and clients.
Dian Booth, Sound Healer, Alice Springs, Australia
A Folk Musician in Gloucestershire
Yesterday I took a 7string Melody Bowl into our regional hospital and brought it to “Linda”, who is completely paralysed following a stroke. I play larger, ten string bowl to her once a week and took the smaller bowl to see whether she might be able to play on it herself. She has a bit of movement left in one finger and uses this finger, pointing to letters on a chart, for communication. Sure enough she wanted to try and together we worked out how she could play all the 7 strings. It was amazing and she was thrilled that she could play a well know folk tune all by herself. She didn’t want to stop playing. Normally I play for her about 15 min, then she gets tired, this time it took almost an hour before she wanted to end. She was delighted to play the bowl again the following week, and one week later spent the entire session playing it herself.
It was a profound experience for me to witness, how after 8 months of being restricted to pointing to letters on a chart, this person could suddenly play music.
I have fallen in love with the walnut bowl you made for Peter G at the rest home. I have been a few times to tune it and got Peter to play a little too. He asked if someone could tune it for him. When Anne and I played improvisations for him he suddenly said “O, I think I could do that too” and then the most beautiful smile spread across his face when he listened to the sound his bowl makes. He realised he doesn’t need to know a tune, playing the bowl is beautiful in itself.
Zambodhi Schlossmacher, Co-founder of ‘Empathy’ offers musical experience to the dying and to people affected by serious illness.
Zambodhi Schlossmacher, Co-founder of 'Empathy'
“On numerous occasions the instruments I have had have felt too intrusive. The Sounding Bowl is extremely flexible and can adjust to numerous situations providing a very safe, sensitive and intimate sound,~ soft and quiet and capable of musical inflection,~ capable of working spontaneously within the moment with all clients. In corridors and passageways where clients are often sitting a client may stop me to talk or reflect on music. The Sounding Bowl is perfect for these transitional areas because of it’s portability, flexibility and unobtrusive sound.
(From a music therapist in London
A London Music Therapist
The Musician for a Hospice in England sent me this collection of anecdotes. In order to preserve confidentiality I will not reveal the therapist’s name or location but the stories are lovely. She says:
Obviously what I do is confidential and I cannot break that, but you are welcome to use these stories sensitively
I have been using the Sounding Bowl in the Hospice since I started working there as a Creative Musician about18 months ago. What I love about it is the way people, almost without exception, respond to it. On my first day I walked into each room, introduced myself & was asked to go away! On my second day I went into all the same rooms, didn’t speak, but held out the Sounding Bowl and was welcomed by each and every patient! Since then I have used it almost every time as a way of first engaging with patients.
I love the fact that after saying to me “I’m not musical” when begin to play people lose their inhibitions in curiosity & delight. I love the way it can be played by two people at the same time, so it’s possible to provide harmony or structure. Also that it can be a way of conversing with question and response. Patients and visitors are immediately attracted by the sound, the beauty and the feel of the instrument.
Yesterday I played to two patients sharing a room. The daughter of the first told me he was really grumpy & would probably hit me over the head with it, but in all the times I’ve been with him he’s been glad to listen. His room-mate has breathing difficulties and his wife often speaks for him, but this time she wasn’t there and in the quietness I could tell he was moved and he thanked me for the soothing quality & told me he would never tire of the sound.
One elderly gentleman was sitting in his room reading the newspaper. I knocked on his door and showed him the sounding bowl. He was entranced and played it for a while then asked me to play to him. By some miracle! he asked if I would play “Amazing Grace,” which is one of a very few tunes that is possible on our bowl, so I did. He immediately asked me to teach him, so we set to work and with enormous concentration he mastered parts of it & I wrote it down for him in a way that he could follow. His large family were not sure about all this, but were prepared to humour us since he was so enthusiastic! A few days later I went back, and again he worked very hard, although he was in some discomfort, until he could play it really well. He was SO excited to be playing a musical instrument for the first time in his life and playing a tune that meant so much to him – I found out later he was a member of the British Legion. By that time his family had caught some of his enthusiasm & welcomed me every time I appeared. Shortly after he became really poorly, and although only family were allowed to be with him they drew me in to play to him. I played “Amazing Grace” to him once more and although he didn’t open his eyes, he just smiled. It meant so much to all of them.
A young lady with a brain tumour – depressed, isolated and bored, and found talking difficult. She was also to some extent disfigured by her disease. She sent me away day after day until at last, with a sigh of resignation she consented to try it! She also played with real focus and what felt like a lot of understanding. She was from a very troubled background and apparently had a huge collection of very violent horror DVDs! That is not at all what I heard in her playing. One day her partner was visiting her, and he expressed interest so I sat with them both & held the sounding bowl for them to play. The relationship was not comfortable at that time (for many reasons) – …but… suddenly she played the most beautiful phrase– and then, as if to show it wasn’t a fluke, she did it again. Then she turned and looked at him, and in those moments she was completely transformed and utterly radiant. She held his glance as if to say “THIS is who I am”. I will never forget that look.
Another day, I saw a young girl sitting in the garden looking very sad. I went to sit with her & showed her the bowl & we played together. We would talk a little, then play, rather like verse and chorus. She was visiting her grandmother who was dying, having watched her mother die in the Hospice two years back. Her grandmother had been everything to her. She took the bowl to show her grandmother, and the other two patients in the room showed interest. I brought more instruments and all three were making music together, mostly enabled by the girl. It was a really happy moment.
I was in late one Friday evening & heard children bashing the piano in the lounge & generally being high spirited! I went to see if I could offer them some music – they were with a wonderful lady vicar who was keeping an eye on them. Together we took lots of instruments out of my cupboards & took them into the sound-proofed room. Then suddenly the children disappeared. I was then told by the nurses that they had been taken in to their father who was dying at that moment. I waited, not really expecting that I could do anything, but after he died they came to me and said they would like to play more. We all took drums or the piano and, with another family member joining in, played with all the energy and volume we could manage. Then the little boy left, and the girl, who was about 10, stayed with me and the vicar. She played the piano for a while and I improvised a bass line to hold her, then when she became quieter I brought out the sounding bowl & she sat playing it & talking about her father and how he loved football. There were a lot of smiles and no tears.
I saw a lady on Friday and again today – she is entranced by it! She apparently trained as an opera singer but she is very poorly. You should have seen her face when I brought it in this afternoon!
I had a lovely time with another patient this week- she touches the strings with such a depth of listening and refuses to be hurried! Hopefully I will have another session today.
Today (two days later) when asked by her daughter, she said she didn’t need me to play today because if she concentrated she could hear it anyway (from the cupboard!).
I spent time playing to a lady a week or two ago. She was very restless & they were worried about her. A couple of days later I went back and played quietly by her bedside. While I was playing she, without a whisper, died very peacefully. I was glad that the sounding bowl & I together had been able to do that for her.
I’m sure I will remember & experience many more moments to tell you about, but meanwhile I’ll send this on as I have promised to for so long.