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German counselor uses art and music to promote resilience in New Orleans

Heather Rudow October 25, 2013

arttherapyClick here to listen to a song by counselor Klaus Lumma and jazz harpist Patrice Fisher.

Klaus Lumma may be from Germany, but the city of New Orleans has become a second home to him.

Lumma is a counselor in private practice, a certified art therapist and a senior adviser to the Institute for Humanistic Psychology and the Akademie Faber-Castell, a youth art school in Germany. He has been teaching counseling and humanistic psychology at the Gestalt Institute of New Orleans since 1996.

Since 2000, Lumma has also been offering a six-day intensive program for European counseling students interested in adding fine arts interventions to their counseling practice. The program culminates with the students taking a trip to New Orleans’ Einstein Charter School to experience its art counseling program.

The longtime musician and composer is also a regular guest performer at the New Orleans French Quarter Festival.

Lumma, who plays both the trumpet and the saxophone, first became interested in music at age 13. But in 2004, he combined his love for music with his passion for mental health.

“I had the idea to compose songs according to each cycle in Pamela Levin’s theory of human development,” explains Lumma, an international member of the American Counseling Association.

He uses the songs as interventions for his clients.

“I ask them which developmental power needs to be enhanced in respect to their personal topic or problem,” Lumma says. “They [then] listen to the specific song which was written for this part of Pamela Levin’s cycle of power, and at the same time they are invited to express their ideas about it by painting with oil pastels, colored pencils or similar material.”

His method has resulted in overwhelmingly positive responses from his clients. In addition, Lumma’s former counseling students started to use the songs in their private practice work and as counselor educators.

But in August 2005, Lumma’s yearly plan to return to the vibrant, musical city he loved changed: Hurricane Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city, resulting in nearly 1,500 fatalities and $105 billion in damage. Residents were reeling over the intense losses the storm left, and so was Lumma.

Looking to help in any way he could, Lumma eagerly accepted a proposal from local counselors to offer post-traumatic counseling to flood victims.

He provided art and music therapy to both children and adults. With music playing, Lumma invited clients, in groups of four to eight people, to draw pictures.

“I then gave them topics related to their personal situations,” Lumma says. “For example, ‘What do you think enabled you [to] survive in spite of the terrible circumstances after the hurricane?’ In this way, I asked them to share their power of resilience with one another, thus creating an opportunity for the sharing of experiences to begin. The effect has always been very successful in getting the discussions started.”

In the years since Katrina, he has found the drawings from hurricane survivors being recognized as effective tools for other people in distress, “whether it be from personal or professional experiences or both. Any client who is ready to re-decide his way of life, who feels that he or she needs support for special situations in his or her life, finds resilience from the Hurricane Katrina drawings, which we’ve been collecting in New Orleans since 2006. The drawings apparently have enhanced the resilience of those who produced them, thus achieving our goal of assisting victims to overcome their trauma and become more optimistic and productive in their future lives.”

Eventually, jazz harpist and New Orleans resident Patrice Fisher heard about Lumma’s efforts and asked him to collaborate  — both musically and therapeutically.

“Since 2007, we’ve been involved in combining post-trauma counseling with her music in my portable studio of art therapy, in the United States as well as in Germany,” Lumma says.

The pair created an album called Resilience, which provides music therapy to the sounds of Latin jazz that Lumma and Fisher play together.

Lumma explains the cognitive reasons behind the success of art therapy, music therapy and other creative interventions in trauma counseling. “Artwork activates the right hemisphere of the human brain,” the side of the brain responsible for spatial abilities, facial recognition, visual imagery and music. “When adding music [and] painting to the counseling process, we can be sure to reach the person in a holistic way. This is effective in both normal counseling as well as with trauma clients. Giving topics to be painted — not only to be spoken about — reactivates subconscious recovery resources. The addition of our specially designed music with the harp, trumpet, guitar, bass and percussion gently rearranges the emotions and skills which were blocked by the traumatic experiences.”

Lumma suggests that counselors interested in using these kinds of interventions start by looking at the resilience drawings he has posted on the Institute for Humanistic Psychology’s website to see which one “gets through to your emotions.”

Counselors could then personally practice the intervention to get a better understanding of how it affects the human body, he says.  “Only reading about how something might affect the client is not enough,” Lumma adds.

Use crayons and copy either part of or the entire selected image, Lumma says, “and enlarge it and add your very own colors to it. A logical next step to test the method would be to have [the counselor’s] colleagues do the same, and then compare their own experiences with the material.”

German publisher Windmühle Publishers of Hamburg is printing Lumma’s new book on resilience coaching. The cover of the book shows one of the pictures drawn by a group of four Hurricane Katrina victims.

Lumma believes that art and musical interventions should be further incorporated into the counseling profession and should also be included in counselor training and education.

“Adding nondigital interventions like music, art and artwork most certainly has a positive effect on the healing process,” Lumma says, “just as playing music and singing songs has a positive effect on the education of young children.”

He believes the focus on right brain activity is a big factor in why these nondigital interventions have had such a positive effect on healing in trauma survivors.

“If we regard our body as a whole, we are to realize that thinking only — or making decisions with the digital side of our brain, the left side, alone — has little healing effect,” Lumma says, “but including the right hemisphere makes our body understand that we are dealing with the given issue in a holistic manner, and that has a positive effect on healing.”

 Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at hrudow@counseling.org. 

1 Comment

  1. Yolanda Espada

    I like too much this type of intervention because I believe that we have to activate the five senses for better learning.

    Reply

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