Meet Steph Hodgson
Liquid Listening aquatic practitioner
Steph Hodgson is one of Liquid Listening’s experienced team of aquatic practitioners. Together with our music specialists, they deliver our Musical Hydrotherapy programmes to disabled children and adults and work with special needs and swimming teachers to train them to understand and deliver the practice.
Steph’s own pathway into Musical Hydrotherapy illustrates how the practice brings together elements of a combination of therapies, creating an experience that is rooted in science but also profoundly intuitive – each session evolving individually using the instinct of both practitioner and participant. Her early career in A&E as a nurse practitioner ignited an interest in what she describes as “how we hold our experiences in the body… how we learn to do that to survive experiences that are overwhelming“. Her connections in hospital with people experiencing trauma taught her, in her words, “how to be calm and grounded and present with people in distress”. Training in craniosacral therapy followed, together with elements of trauma training and mindful-based psychotherapy, confirming Steph’s belief that practices that calm the nervous system can have a powerful and restorative impact that extends beyond the practitioner and participant into their wider environments. She also continued her exploration of how we hold trauma in our bodies, how we store it and how to access and recover that information in order to process it and heal.
“You learn to hold someone so that the holding doesn’t intrude upon them at all”
A chance sighting of a video of Musical Hydrotherapy in action – a practitioner meeting and holding a person in the water – connected everything that Steph had been exploring with Liquid Listening and its approach. “A lot of forms of aquatic bodywork training are about doing, doing, doing – doing things to the person, physiotherapy in the water. What this is about it is very different to that, it’s more about just being in the water with the person with no agenda, meeting them where they are and holding them. When you’re met in that way your nervous system relaxes deeply and it’s a very rare experience.” When Steph works with trainees to teach Musical Hydrotherapy, the foundations of the work are about teaching them how to be present and grounded with another person. Participants learn to hold and be held and to experience the feeling of “being” and releasing their own defences, so that when they take on the practitioner role, leading a child or another adult in the water, they can meet the same need.
“Water is miraculous for these children…this is about finding that place where they can relax into you and their system can relax into your holding.”
This is particularly relevant to the children with complex disabilities, particularly those with limited mobility outside the water, who much of Liquid Listening’s work focuses on. “There’s very few times in their day when they’re not required to ‘do’ something…. Every movement, every interaction in their lives requires intervention that essentially they’re having to brace themselves for.” Steph notes that often children arrive in the water “wheelchair-shaped” as well as full of tension. Being in the warm water in a hydrotherapy pool is a huge release and freedom in itself for them, but the real impact happens when the child is “met” and held by the practitioner, the vibrations from the underwater sound travelling into their bodies. The practitioner feels the child’s nervous system letting go and entering a state of deep release, which in turn allows their bodies to release muscle spasms, release suppressed emotions, overwhelm or trauma, reduce agitation and enter a state of deep calm. There are often tears at the end of a session – not angry tears, but the release of emotions held in the body – “tears of joy”.
“Something amazing happens, every time, in every school.”
Liquid Listening’s Musical Hydrotherapy training courses and residencies in special needs schools take place over 3-4 days, and typically involve a significant proportion of the school’s teachers and pupils. While the purpose of the training – and the practice – is to embed regular Musical Hydrotherapy sessions into the school curriculum and to enable children with PMLD and autism to access its benefits on a regular (hopefully at least weekly) basis, the experience of being in residence over days and of teachers experiencing the practice often has its own profound impact. Steph feels that the process of watching a school absorb the impact of Musical Hydrotherapy over a few days is a powerful and important part of the work she is a part of. “I’m steeped in this world, but many of the teachers we work with will never have experienced anything like this before. So you’re coming in giving them a taste of it, an experience. The experience is the important thing and often, almost every time, something profound happens… These teachers never stop, and this is a deep ‘stopping’, a deep learning….”
And Musical Hydrotherapy as a practice? Steph puts it very simply.
“This is my favourite work. It’s transformational.”