My journey into music therapy: India

Natasha Lin shares the power of music with children in India



After a 14-hour train ride, I had arrived at Varanasi from Kolkata.

Looking back, it’s been an inspiring journey, full of new discoveries, explorations, creations, and heartaches.

For the past month I’ve worked closely with the Child In Need Institute, introducing and implementing a new music therapy program for this organisation. This was my final clinical placement as part of my Master of Music Therapy with the University of Melbourne.

Four students were selected after we put our hands up for this cross-cultural opportunity. Packing our bags, we set off to India for the month. Each pair worked with CINI or the India Institute of Cerebral Palsy, and I worked with the former with another colleague. Facing the unknown, we were excited and nervous, but open and anticipating the adventure ahead.

The four weeks were roughly planned to uphold a program with a sustainable outcome for CINI. The first week involved establishing rapport with staff, observing and assessing the children’s needs, and fine-tuning ideas for the coming week. The second week involved running and facilitating sessions to model for staff, so that by the third week they could take on the facilitating role in preparation for our departure in the fourth week. The fourth and final week involved closure with children and staff, the latter with whom we further fine-tuned skill-transference.

Through this experience, I witnessed first-hand how music can break down cultural barriers and differences in perspectives, particularly through all of us seeing the changes in children’s behaviours since the commencement of these music therapy sessions.

Natasha plays the sitar for the first time.

The ages of children spanned between 5 to 18 years old, and we worked with them in two main groups. After observations and discussions with counsellors, two of the main goals to be addressed with music therapy were identified. One, for children to establish and maintain positive relationships with one another and with staff; and two, for children to expand their emotional coping strategies using available music resources.

Music, in this sense, transcends beyond what is heard or seen. But fundamentally, it transcends in how it is felt, and what ideas may transpire from it. My colleague and I invited children and staff to experience a flexible and versatile program that involved many different, fun, music-centred activities primarily aimed at targeting children’s needs. Over the concentrated span of four days a week, for two to three weeks, these sessions ran daily for one hour to 90 minutes each; and we started to observe behaviour changes in the children.

Children were beginning to expand their social repertoire in listening, turn-taking, and general respect to one another. Rather than using physical force to express needs, words such as “thank you” and “hello” were beginning to be used more, and the understanding of empathy starting to blossom. Children also started to discover the use of resources available to them that have musical potential, which can be an outlet for their emotional expressions. Music, in this sense, paved way to open space to discuss fundamental issues that are otherwise difficult to begin.

As one boy said, he doesn’t like to be hit by his friends, which others in the group acknowledged in silence. So, what can they do to express angst? Another continued, “banging on the drum will help me”. What if you don’t have access to a drum? Another boy suggested, “we can use bottles, plates, and whatever we have for drum beats”. This was a phrase that captured the seed of an idea to the infinite possibilities of music in everyday items for personal wellbeing.

The last week was a celebration of the children and the beginning of CINI’s music therapy program. Songs were sung, laughter shared, and connections strengthened. We developed a music therapy resource booklet for staff to continue developing, adding and changing as they see fit according to the needs of the children. Despite our departure, we are now on standby for any further questions and recommendations.

Three field trips to rural regions of West Bengal reflected the depth of CINI’s reach to its communities. Built upon four value pillars – nutrition, health, education, and child protection – this non-government organisation was first established 43 years ago with the intention to eradicate malnutrition to the growing population. Now, with more than 1900 Indian professionals, this organisation has expanded internationally, with collaborations with Italy, Uganda, Canada, Australia, and the United States, just to name a few (find out more).

The lane where CINI, Kolkata branch, is located.

Although I stepped into the grounds of CINI, Kolkata branch, with open arms and mind, it was still surprising to experience how smoothly this draft plan transpired. It is to much of the credit to the counsellors, teachers, administrators, and management of CINI that they invited the two of us into their organisation and welcomed a collaboration between our cultures.

This closes the chapter of the two years of my music therapy studies. Looking back at when I first began this course, I had no idea that I would be finishing the training in India – and with an organisation that has further fuelled my belief in the power of music to connect communities, dissolve tension and strengthen minds.


About Natasha Lin

Natasha Lin is a Melbourne concert pianist trained in a Master in Music Therapy. This blog is part of her series about music and health. Natasha has spent professional placements in a Special Development School, working with young people with disabilities; at a major hospital in Geriatric and Rehabilitation Departments; and in a hospital’s Palliative Care and Oncology Unit. Her supervisor is an internationally respected Registered Music Therapist.


CutCommon is a proud member of the Arts Wellbeing Collective, where you can find out more about health and wellbeing in the Australian arts industry. For youth mental health support, visit headspace.


Images supplied, courtesy Natasha Lin.

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