Women in Work 2016
Introducing Ms April, Allison Davies
Imagine you are five years old and it's birthday season. Yours is in three weeks and each weekend leading up to it is someone else's birthday. Parties are on, lollies and cake abound. The candles are lit and the crowd starts, "Haaapppy Biiirr...."
However you have autism, and rather than exciting you, the traditional raucous sing along overwhelms you. You cry, scream, and melt down, needing to be escorted from the room. It's been like that at every party, every birthday, even your own, where no-one sings the song any more because it's too traumatic.
That is until Allison Davies comes along.
Allison works with you patiently every week. Playing the guitar, singing softly, humming a tune. Noticing when it's getting too much and dialing it back, or when you're doing well and encouraging you on. Progress is made, so much so that for your sixth birthday, she arranges a special visit.
Allison has talked to your family, told them not to make a fuss, almost to ignore her. She arrives at your party, guitar in hand, and softly and calmly sings you a song. And for the first time in your life "Happy Birthday" isn't too bad. You even stand nearby and smile a little.
Your parents play along, not making a fuss, but deep down inside they are bursting with joy. Allison has helped you and your family celebrate just like everyone else does. And that's all any little kid wants right?
Allison is a registered music therapist.
Not just any old person with a guitar and tambourine can be a music therapist. There are undergraduate degrees, postgraduate Masters' and rigid registration processes to go through. You need to be musical yes, but you also need to be educated, dedicated, and to make it as far as Allison has, professionally minded.
Later this year, Allison will present at the World congress of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies, and the International Dementia conference, for her work in dementia. She has developed a program and written a book on the use of music therapy for the treatment of the condition, a condition which is infiltrating our aging society in growing numbers.
"Very rarely does a day go by where something profound doesn't happen," Allison explains as she speaks about the profession she has worked in for over a decade.
The clinical definition for music therapy is the use of music to attain and maintain health and wellbeing. Music therapy is suitable for any age, starting at premature babies who are yet to take their first breath, right through to the elderly about to take their last.
"Just as a paint brush is a painter's tool, music is ours," explains Allison of the Allied Health profession.
Ask anyone what their favourite song is, and undoubtedly they will have a list. Music is medicine for the soul. It can lift you up, bring you down, give you goose bumps or transport you in time and place.
It is no wonder then that music therapy is gaining traction in the Allied Health space as a respected and successful treatment option. Music therapy can be used in a clinical setting, a private home, a school, or even a detention centre.
"Working with the teenagers at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre was one of my favourite experiences," Allison says. "Those guys constantly surprised me with the kinds of musical experiences they wanted to be part of."
When asked what her children think she does, Allison laughs.
"Chester is a bit little to really know or care but Maple knows I'm a music therapist. She even wants to be a music therapist too. When I asked her what she thought she would do as a music therapist, she said send emails!"
On balancing a burgeoning career and young family, Allison has had to become aware of her limitations.
"I have to say no to some clients and that breaks my heart, but I only have so much capacity that I can give to the business right now."
Allison has plans, big plans, to take her private practice Oh My Musical Goodness to great heights, and her advice to other women wanting it all is to go for it.
"Everyone should aim to have it all, women and men," Allison says. "For me personally I have to at least strive to have everything I dream about, otherwise I feel unfulfilled."
Music therapy is making progress with patients where other therapies are having limited results. And it's no wonder with practitioners as passionate and creative as Allison Davies.
With a wait list of clients for Oh My Musical Goodness, another book in the works, and a regional Australian tour coming up, Allison has her hands full. And music therapy and its patients are better for it.
To read other inspiring Women in Work profiles, follow this link.