Tuning Relationships with Music: introducing Dr Vivienne Colegrove

Registered Clinical Counsellor and music therapist Dr Vivienne Colegrove has developed an evidence-based therapy for traumatised parents and their children. 

 Vivienne will be running a two-day in-person course for therapists in Tuning Relationships with Music (TRM) in Melbourne on 14 and 21 May 2022. 

 The Level One course will provide an introduction to the theory and research underpinning TRM and the use of musical exercises to assess non-verbal aspects of parent-child interaction. Vivienne is our profiled member for the May 2022 News. 

 1. Can you share something of your story about becoming a counsellor? 

 I started my working life as a musician and music teacher, and discovered music therapy in the context of teaching piano and keyboard to adults and children who had mental health and developmental challenges.

 This brought me to Melbourne to study music therapy at Melbourne Uni. I then worked in community mental health and did further training in family therapy and relationship counselling while supporting families and partners caring for someone with a serious mental illness.

 While working with these families, I discovered the ground-breaking work of Judith Herman who spoke powerfully about the impact of interpersonal trauma on mental health, and this has been pivotal to my work ever since. I commenced private practice in 2004 and have developed a speciality over time of working with couples, families and individuals where past experiences of abuse or neglect have affected people's mental health and ability to manage their relationships. 

2. What is ‘Tuning Relationships with Music’? 

Tuning Relationships with Music (TRM) is a therapy I developed out of an awareness that my family therapy and relationship counselling training, while helpful to many, was failing people where a history of traumatic experiences was impacting their ability to manage triggering and regulate emotions during conflict. 

I wanted to develop a therapy in response to the existing research and evidence, so I decided to do this as a PhD. When I took a good look at the literature, I discovered that people with a trauma history need approaches that focus on the nonverbal aspects of their interaction in order to both experience and create safety, and that pay attention to somatic and emotional processes that drive and maintain trauma triggers. 

In other words, people with an interpersonal trauma history often struggle to experience safety; if they don’t feel safe they won’t be able to function in their relationships, and safety needs to be experienced at a physical and emotional level, not just in the thinking part of our brains.

 TRM actively helps people to do this, using music to work directly with nonverbal and somatic processes. 

3. What was the evidence that came out of your PhD research that the therapy was effective? 

 In my PhD, I conducted a small randomised controlled trial to find out if TRM was helpful to parents and adolescents with a trauma history who experience high levels of conflict in their relationship. Findings showed that both parents and adolescents who attended TRM reported conflict was significantly reduced compared with parents and teens who received ’therapy as usual’. Parents who took part in TRM were less reactive and more responsive to their teen, compared to those who received other forms of therapy. 

4. What is it about working with music that supports healthy relating and how is it different from talk-only modalities? 

Music is a unique way of working directly with nonverbal communication. Think of parents and small children - and how as parents we sing to our kids, and kids respond well before they have language. These patterns of relating form the basis of secure attachment, which then underpins verbal interactions later on. People with a trauma history may have never developed these healthy patterns of relating if they were subjected to abuse or neglect early in life. But like learning a piece of music, we can learn these patterns at any time. Music also is a very powerful medium that can express how we feel beyond words, and can change our emotional and physical state very quickly (think of music that gets you up and moving, or music that can calm you down when you are upset). 

5. Could you share more about your other research through Mindful at the University of Melbourne? 

I am very excited and proud that in partnership with Mindful (Melb Uni) and the Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault, we are conducting a further research trial to find out if TRM is helpful for a much larger sample of families impacted by sexual/physical violence. 

6. How do you use music personally for your own mental wellbeing? 

I love to listen to music in a live setting (concerts, musicals) for my own well-being; recorded music just isn’t the same! I also love to play piano, sing and I write songs as well. 

Register now for the Tuning Relationships with Music Level One course.