I spoke with Anna Grabner, VMTR, psychologist, in Lisbon, Portugal for our continuing blog series on IAVMT members. Anna is currently a co-Secretary of IAVMT along with Gina Holloway Mulder.
“I have found that the playful nature of VMT encourages people to unfold their personal stories in guided voice movement journeys.”
–Anna Grabner, VMTR
Anna grew up in Austria, where she studied clinical and health psychology as a profession, and in her free time voice, music, and movement. Anna worked primarily in hospitals and facilities promoting mental health for teenagers, children and adults.
“After some years I somehow found it unnatural that all my interactions with patients evolved just around words and left the body out. It is easy to hide emotional issues behind words. Only when you include the whole body the real work begins. I felt a calling to find a body-oriented training that would link my passion for voice and therapy, and luckily found an inspiring match with the VMT training” she added.
While taking singing classes Anna met Eva Campbell-Haidl, VMTR, who encouraged her to deepen her interest in therapeutic voice work and consider taking the 2012 VMT training in South Africa with Anne Brownell. The timing of the training felt perfect, since Anna had already decided to deepen the inquiry of voice in her newly chosen home Portugal. “I always felt that the voice holds a transformational potential. It was time to deepen my connection with my own voice and explore holistic tools to accompany others in finding their true voices too.”
Anna points out that the Training involved much more than she had expected at first. “I arrived at the training, eager to learn new tools to integrate into my professional practice, and soon realized that it was really more about uncovering personal layers first, to be there as Anna, not the psychologist. It took a while to be as vulnerable as I needed to be for myself and others, to really surrender in order to benefit from the Training.
Learning about one of the main VMT components, The Sphere, was a crucial and touching moment in the training. I finally felt what it meant to be really in tune with my own body. I realized that I could always truly connect with my essence, no matter where I was. Having spent a lot of time traveling, searching for myself on the outside, it felt like coming home,” she said.
Anna describes that the training has since then left noticeable traces in her everyday life. “Only really since embarking on the journey of Voice Movement Therapy have I been giving myself the permission to fully tune into my body, to really listen and to express from a true place. There is a freedom that sinks in when you embody the Voice Movement Therapy system that takes away any doubts that the voice is the most primal source for reconnecting yourself with your true being.
I listen differently within and consciously choose to make space for my voice and emotions. There is more acceptance that a truthful expression includes everything from joy to sadness and anger. Understanding the different vocal timbres, and the direct connection between recognizing emotional shadows and releasing them through the voice, helps me to dissolve any blockages in a more holistic way. This helps me e.g. to respond more healthily to an irritated tone in my voice when I am overwhelmed. Voice Movement Therapy encourages you to be yourself, to find and express your true being through your authentic voice,” Anna said.
Moreover, the role of VMT in the mother-child communication became something Anna wanted to explore further. “In my pregnancy I became fascinated by the influence of the maternal voice on the fetus. I learned more about the connection between our voice and pelvic floor, and how that understanding can improve your preparation for birth. I explored the world of lullabies, creating my own for my daughter and accompanying other mothers and their partners in doing the same.
On my ongoing journey of motherhood I have also become a sort of (silent) advocate for children that they be allowed to express their emotions. Many of us adults have lost that direct connection between feeling and expression. If we watch our children they will remind us, every day, that we do have the possibility to express and not hold our emotions in. We need to be reminded of our intuitive nature,” Anna added.
When asked about her practice in Portugal she describes her work as being multifaceted, with the overlying focus on self-inquiry and healing. As mentioned, one branch of her work focuses on empowering the journey of motherhood. Anna feels deeply about supporting mothers in their newly found role and therefore organises regular “sisterhood song circles”, a safe and empowering space where women can meet regularly to share their experiences in song and dance.
Over the years she has found a good balance in offering her sessions in different formats (private sessions, group sessions, workshops, retreats) in indoor and outdoor spaces. She has grown to appreciate the importance of accompanying voice movement journeys in nature. “Being surrounded by the orchestra of natural sounds there is a kind of magic that happens when you slow down before you voice, “she said. She guides her clients into becoming still and silent, just listening. She slowly invites them to add their voice onto the canvas of nature. Be it at the ocean, after a silent meditative walk, or by creating a ceremonial circle in a forest, her clients are reminded that nature provides a safe space to reconnect with their inner true nature.
Furthermore, Anna became a qualified Thai Yoga Massage practitioner in 2017, and since then offers ‘voice massage journeys’ where she creates healing sounds in the moment through voice and instruments. She also collaborates with other practitioners such as music therapists, yoga and massage practitioners, musicians and singers who share her vision of promoting well-being e.g. through vocal sound baths, meditative singing gatherings, lullaby circles and healing sound massages. In recent years she has also focused more on empowering women through feminine oriented body voice work and women’s temples.
Anna said she experiences VMT as a grounded and accessible system which allows her to communicate with clients from all kinds of backgrounds, in a mother language not her own. She also draws from her knowledge as a practicing psychologist, especially when clients need long-term therapeutic guidance to resolve traumas on a deeper level. Often it is her psychology degree that draws clients in but she is being equally sought after by people intrigued by ‘voice movement therapy’ to satisfy their need of creative, movement and artistic expression. Some clients initially wish to improve just their communication skills or their vocal technique and then gradually see the cathartic effect voice work can have. Sometimes she receives mails years later of clients admitting that they were surprised by the depth of the work, realizing only in hindsight that it was this kind of release through voice movement therapy that they really needed.
“Every individual session begins in the present moment, independent of the therapeutic and creative path that is defined together with the client. I work mainly with adults, guiding them to reconnect with the primal essence of their voice. I listen to their voice and watch their breath flow to understand what they need. We may then remain in stillness, grounding through simple toning, or move to more expansive vocal movement expression”, Anna describes.
She continues to explain that when working in groups a lot of space is given to creating moments of collective healing and creation of sound. She said, “This may involve discovering breath expansion and vibrations in other bodies, as well as fun vocal improvisations and circle singing, where we embrace the joy of connecting in sound. The unifying moments created by music and song, when everyone is truly present and really listening to each other is touching each time.”
Anna responded about how she sees this as “when we realize that the voice is our most primal source for self-healing we can slow down. We can breathe fully, feeling this gentle vibration of breath and voice close to us, reminding us to take of ourselves. We reconnect with our essence. Everyone can tune themselves into their bodies by themselves. I am just a reminder of what we already know deep within our body and voice wisdom.”
Anna believes a Voice Movement Therapy Conference in Europe would enable people to understand the importance of VMT. “I am having another baby in July but I would like to co-organize an IAVMT conference in the future. A lot of wonderful healing work is happening here in Portugal. Portuguese clients have shared how they are culturally finding their voice again, since the suffering from a 40year long dictatorship seems deeply rooted within them. On a global level I believe we need to grow and work together even more now, to save the planet and humanity. Regaining our strength by collectively reconnecting to our essence and true voice could help us in this process,” Anna added.
by Erika Hahn, M.A.
edited by Anna Grabner, M.A., VMTR
Anna Grabner VMTR