The transformative power of music

How music therapy is helping trans and non-binary youth find their voices

By Jill Chappell

An innovative mental health program is connecting 2SLGBTQIA+ youth with their authentic voices.

 Funded by the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, Trans-Formative Voices is a program that treats gender dysphoria by providing voice and music therapy to transgender and non-binary youth. 

 “A lot of our work is centered around coming into your voice and the identity of your voice and who we are as people,” says MacKenzie Costron, founder of Find Your Voice Music Therapy. “For the transgender and non-binary community on their journey of transitioning, when their voice, speaking or singing, doesn’t connect to who they feel they are as a human, that can be very unsettling.”

MacKenzie Costron, founder of Find Your Voice Music Therapy. / Photo: Submitted

Find Your Voice Music Therapy is currently running its first youth cohort of Trans-Formative Voices for teens aged 13 to 17. The eight-week program includes six private and two group sessions, operating under a pay-what-you- can model. Teenage participants don’t need to wait until after puberty to participate, either. In fact, learning the skills and techniques to find a gender-affirming voice before puberty can help ease that transition

“When you’re a transitioning, transgender individual, you want everybody to see you as you see you, and there’s a lot more to that than putting together a new wardrobe,” says Aimee Copping, a recent participant in the program. “You find yourself having to take on new ways of walking, new ways of feeling, new ways even of interacting with other people and it can all get a bit overwhelming.” 

The distress someone feels when their birth sex doesn’t align with their gender identity is known as gender dysphoria. In recent years, the number of Canadian adolescents reporting dysphoria has soared. The jump is believed to be a reflection of a demand for services that has long gone unmet due to stigma. 

A survey released by Statistics Canada this summer shows transgender Canadians are more likely than their cis peers (people who identify as the sex they were born with) to have seriously contemplated suicide and been diagnosed with a mood or anxiety disorder. 

Led by music therapist Kastin Bradley, Trans-Formative Voices helps address these staggering mental health inequities by providing peer support and community connection, addressing feelings of isolation within a safe setting and by building self-confidence in gender identity and expression.

“I had one client who at our very first individual session almost had an anxiety attack because they were so anxious about their voice,” says Bradley. “They just felt so disconnected from it and that it wasn’t authentic to them. Fast forward a couple of weeks and they’ve expressed they genuinely like how they’re presenting and being perceived. They’re not getting misgendered as much, so they have less dysphoria, are less worried and feel safer in public spaces.”

As a non-binary therapist, Bradley brings a wealth of knowledge in serving the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. They first recognized a need for this type of program when their partner, who works as a musician, came out as transgender and quickly realized there were little to no resources to aid in his transition musically or vocally. Bradley is currently training in affirmative therapies for transgender communities at Widener University in Pennsylvania.

“Everyone deserves to find their true voice, to be able to fully express themselves and live an authentic life, and Trans-Formative Voices is enabling that basic human right,” says Starr Cunningham, Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia president. “The Mental Health Foundation is incredibly proud of the support this service provides to our 2SLGBTQIA+ community, which reduces gender dysphoria while improving the mental health and well-being of transgender and non-binary individuals.”

Cunningham says the foundation recognizes the importance of creating a safe, supportive space for members of the queer community and hope this program helps individuals uncover a deeper connection with their inner-voice and fully express who they are through speech and song.

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