During this Women’s month we will focus on women who are contributing to the field of arts therapies. Community Art Counselling, and the work that we do, is based in the therapeutic use of the arts so we want to highlight and celebrate its value. Music therapist, Hermi Viljoen answered a few questions for us.
Describe your career path into the arts therapies. What made you choose this career?
I started with piano lessons at age 6 was hooked on making music ever since. Music played such an important role in my life throughout my school years. It served as an escape and healthy coping mechanism to your typical teenager challenges. Playing exams and concerts gave me the highest sense of achievement I did not to find anywhere else. My music teachers were strict but kind women who showed me what hard work really entails and to accept and learn from criticism. I knew that music had healing and therapeutic value and I was very eager to explore the potential. I was in grade 11 when I first heard about Music Therapy and that it is recognized health care profession in South Africa. From there on it became my main purpose to become a music therapist. After matriculating in 2009, I continued my studies in Music at the University of Pretoria. After completing a BMus degree in music I was accepted for the Masters Degree in Music therapy in 2014. Finally in February 2016 I registered as a Music Therapist at the HPCSA and I am happy to say that it has been an honor to practice music therapy ever since.
What is the most rewarding part of your work as an arts therapist? What is the most difficult/least rewarding part of it?
The most rewarding part of being a music therapist is the humbling encounters I have with clients on a daily basis.
It is such a privilege to be able to communicate with others on such a deep level where words are not necessary but still everyone in the room is heard and understood in a special and unique way.
The least rewarding part is dealing with the financial part of therapy. Countless people are in dire need of mental health services but do not receive it due to financial strains. I try to accommodate people as far as my own finances allows me, but it is tough seeing people having to compromise their own mental wellbeing due to lack of finances.
Where do you currently work and what does a typical day look like in the life of an arts therapist?
I work at various non-profits and I have a private practice in Pretoria East. I work at The Baby Therapy Centre in Lynnwood, Pretoria. Here I attend to the needs of babies and young children with intellectual and physical needs by facilitating individual and group music therapy sessions. I work at BrainLife in Wilgers and Mamelodi where I facilitate weekly group music therapy sessions for adults who suffered a traumatic brain injury. At my private practice I see individuals (adults and children) with mental health disorders, syndromes and disabilities. I also visit preschools on a weekly basis where I attend to the early developmental challenges some children face. A day in the life of a music therapist consists of a lot of driving with a car filled with all sorts of instruments to accommodate all age groups worked with on that particular day.
Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work? And why?
My university lecturers (there are too many to call by name but they know who they are) are the biggest influencers in my approach when working with my clients. They provided me with the necessary critical thinking skills where I am forced to question my own thinking when working in a clinical setting. This allows me find both creative and ethical resources to ensure that my clients receive unique experiences that caters to their individual needs. The second and most important influence for me as a practicing therapist, are the clients I work with on a daily basis. As one gains more experience (personally and professionally), your understanding of the harsh realities people live in today becomes the most valuable knowledge that influences your approach as a therapist.
What do you wish other people knew about the arts therapies?
Music, art, drama and dance/movement is difficult to explain using words. To fully understand it, you must allow yourself to experience it. It can transform people in such a profound way. It is experienced therefore one will never forget. This makes the Arts Therapies such an integral part in South Africa’s mental health system.
In the SA arts therapies field, there seems to be a lack of diversity. How do you think we can create more diversity and representation?
In South Africa we haven’t solved the high unemployment rate. This means that a large population of South Africans do not have the basic needs of human survival which are food and shelter. To become an Art Therapist, many years of studying at a University as well as private tuition in the respective modality in school are needed. Still after going through the long and expensive process to finally register as an Arts therapist, one is faced with another harsh reality which is job security. So far there are no government funded posts available for arts therapists, therefore making it very difficult to obtain a sustainable income. This makes the arts therapies a less desirable profession, especially if a person comes from a previously disadvantaged financial position.
What global or South African issues do you feel most passionate about? And why?
Human trafficking happens everyday right in front of us. We automatically think of human trafficking as women and children who are drugged, taken by force and sold off, never to be seen or heard of again. That is happening, but human trafficking comes in other forms as well. Human trafficking happens in our schools where a child’s body is sold so their boyfriend or girlfriend can earn money or drugs. There are people in the service industry who are working in unsafe conditions, working an unhealthy amount of daily hours, being underpaid and threatened to be deported if they want to resign. Human trafficking is seen in pornographic films which is a large industry that seems to continue growing. The clothes we wear are made by adults and children who are underpaid and working in harsh environments. The coffee we indulge in every morning is often picked by migrant workers forced into unfair working hours and despite working the many hours, still live in poverty. Human trafficking comes in different forms and whether we want to acknowledge it or not, we collectively contribute to the imprisonment of those individuals. The general public plays a significant role in strengthening human trafficking, imagine how easy it will be for us to bring an end to it.
How do you view the role of the arts therapies in changing this issue for the better?
Being a female music therapist, I find myself often playing various roles in therapy sessions, especially when working with those who are at risk of being trafficked in some way. I find myself switching between the roles of a mother, a friend, a leader and most importantly someone who cares and are safe to confide it.
Music strengthens my ability to play these roles and provide guidance and safety to these individuals.
It is important to those at risk to have access to this service as it provides them with healthy coping mechanisms, offers them a safe space to express their emotions, and provides multiple opportunities for them to practice selfcare to better their mental wellbeing.
As a woman, what is your personal philosophy on what should be done on prevalent issues such as gender-based violence?
I believe that GBV is deeply rooted in a serious mental health crisis that perpetrators are not urgently being assisted with. We are focused at providing basic needs for South Africans and completely neglect the psychological needs of those who are living in unsafe environments. My philosophy is based on the theory that human beings are predominantly the product of their environment and we can do our best to help those in need but true change can take place once a safe physical and psychological environment is provided to young men and children.
We need safe and mentaly healthy men to take on the role of protecting women and children by starting conversations with those around them about the seriousness of GBV.
I encourage all men to take a closer look at themselves, focus of how they speak of women and children in front of other men, be aware of the sexist humor those indulge in at social gatherings and how they treat their spouses/partners in front of others. I believe that this will directly affect the environment children are growing up and help shape healthy human beings who will go on to be our country’s future educators, law enforcement, parents and leaders.
What are you currently working on? And how can our readers learn more about the work you do?
I am currently advocating that people invest in their mental wellbeing (especially during this pandemic) and if they need help, to take immediate action and ask for professional help. Therapists can also assist in providing a good self-care routine and regular check ins which is essential at the moment for everyone regardless if you are directly affected by the pandemic or not. Readers can visit my Facebook page @Hermi Viljoen Music Therapist, visit my website on www.hvmusictherapist.com or email me any questions on email@example.com