Interview in the “Musiktherapeutische Umschau”, 2002

Jan. 23rd, 2002, pp.72-79


Current clientele: psychosomatics, oncology, chronic illnesses, early traumatisation, dysphonia, general life crisis. 13 years of music therapy with children, adolescents, and adults. Since 1990, sole focus on adults.  Furthermore: music therapists, professional prospects, students, encounter groups, training and advanced training.

Experience in years (in 2002): 24


What does “Listening” mean to you?
Contact. Both outwards and inwards – to listen within and to pick out – particularly in special moments it can also mean contact to the inaudible.

Listening to the intermittent sound of the whole body: tone color – tone movement – tonal structure… multi-sensory, synesthetic. In trance, everyone is a synaesthete.


What is the atmosphere like in which you work? How do you create it?
During a therapy session or a seminar, I “forget” everything around me. I immerse myself into the depth of the moment, the encounters, the momentary process which I can hear, feel, and see. I often enter a trance-like state of focussed presence. It is a place of inner calmness and clarity, where knowledge, experience, and intuition merge …

In addition, since I started working in this area, I have always made sure that I bring a lot of variety to my scope of activities so that I avoid routine and continue to stimulate different sides of me and don’t get stuck. I love new challenges and experiences that expand my limits of consciousness.


How does music therapy work?
The different parameters of music have very different psychophysical spheres of effect. To explain these properly would go beyond this scope. I have already written extensively about “the effects of our voice”. However, what works, or, at best, heals, are not therapeutic “techniques”, nor tones, sounds, rhythms, scales, or melodies per se. They also work under the influence of our biography, our social and situational context, the set and setting in which they belong, can be felt and experienced. The way in which they are absorbed and processed is the manifestation of a relationship: to myself, to someone else, and to the world.

Music, but also breathing, the voice, movement, a careful touch, visualisation, and sensory awareness function as a mediator, an endogenous consultant. With the inherent self-healing potential, it is a competent companion during the therapeutic process, oscillating between regression, stagnation and progression. That is why I call my methodological approach “body oriented music therapy”. It refers to the inclusion of various forms of direct and indirect physical contact both during the diagnosis and in therapy. In other words, body image, body posture, touch, figurative movement, breathing, voice expression, sound healing, and altered states of consciousness, as well as interaction with musical instruments. My main concern is the training of music therapists in the theoretical and methodical use of their voice, their body, and its boundaries, as well as in dealing with trance during music psychotherapy.

The only thing that truly “heals”, or rather re-establishes the way we react or experience things, how we stimulate change, is – and I am rather old-fashioned this way – the setting free of already existing resources so that we can re-experience a successful relationship based on love and respect. Each method can therefore only be the facilitator.


Music can facilitate a lot during therapy; but what stands in its way?
Perhaps clarity, ascertainment, the transferability into our everyday life, structure, rational understanding. There are people, who are, for example, in a chronic so-called “problem trance” or who have survived by temporarily “leaving” their bodies, by dissociation. In addition to music, these people also need something that is identifiable, visible and to be able to stand back from the situation during a reflective conversation.


What happens during a music therapy session without music?
Verbal or nonverbal processing, immersion, and breathing, vocal, and embodiment exercises. I also use various methods of trance induction, systemic structures, gestalt therapy, movement, painting … and silence. Music to me, both active or receptive – although I only use music I play by myself in my individual therapy sessions – is one of many possibilities for conflict management, next to many other very applicable approaches.


During improvisation, how to you control the impulse between inside and outside?
Methodically, and I always double-check them by asking my body, which is my most reliable adviser.  I also control my impulses intuitively and reassess them afterwards. This usually happens in a fraction of a second. I try to influence the shape of each music therapy session in such a way – leading, whilst I follow – that it is completed, “round”, and if worse comes to worse, it can stand on its own.


Where did you recently get important ideas for your work?
From the inexhaustible wealth of intense self-awareness with body oriented therapy methods, prenatal psychology, ecstatic trance, and holotropic breath work (Grof). I can only accompany my clients and seminar participants into inner abyss and flights into the sky as I myself am willing and able to go along without fear.

I also get important inspiration from my professional cooperation with other colleagues, e.g. by conducting seminars with them, inviting them to symposia, or discussing a specific case with them. In recent years, this has inspired me to develop a methodical concept for the integration of systematic therapy, Erickson’s hypnotherapy, and music therapy. Also from art and my own experimental performances originate new, crazy ideas for my work. However, I always get the most beautiful motivation and stimulation during the unpredictable, creative interaction with my clients or seminar participants.


How do you deal with the risks and side effects that sometimes come with therapeutic work?
By trying to face them unvarnished and early enough, and by openly addressing them, as far as they are recognisable. I try to honestly define the limits of my abilities and, in some cases, to seek advice from more competent colleagues or transfer so. to more competent colleagues or more appropriate therapy methods. In addition, I make an effort to minimise “risks” through external supervision or advise from colleagues in my team of the Institute of Medical Psychology here at the University Clinic Heidelberg. I also seek advanced training on a regular basis. All of this doesn’t of course always prevent me from making a mistake or realising something too late.

A typical “side effect” of music therapy and working with altered states of consciousness – in training or in treatment – is the strong opening and transparency of highly sensitive people, which runs the risk of even more suffering. So, I give equal importance to learning how to deal with flexible boundaries and protective, structuring rituals.


What does “playing” mean to you?
To be alive, to follow impulses untamed, curious, wild and delicate, loud and quiet, incredibly weak and incredibly strong, serious and cheerful, profound and superficial, masculine and feminine, to practice uncensored, to discard, to try again, to surprise myself, to leave the safe space of the familiar, to explore boundaries, take risks, with all senses, sensual, meaningful and meaningless, without concept or theory, just to BE.


What’s your “private music” like?
Silence. Nature. My family. Singing. And of course painting.


© Sabine Ritner, Personal Interview, Published in the “Musiktherapeutische Umschau” 2002 23, (1) 2002, pp.72-79