Online Support During Lockdown

corona-online-support-mental-health

Self-isolation is difficult. For many, it brings financial hardship, relational difficulties, loneliness, lack of daily structure and routine, difficult emotions. You do not need to go through this or figure it out on your own. Online connection is certainly possible and incredibly valuable. Anyone, from anywhere in the world, can engage in online sessions. I am continuing supporting clients during periods of self-isolation owing to covid-19. Online sessions assist in managing self-isolation and working with other difficulties arising during this time.

Support systems like therapy, mentoring and coaching need not fall away during this stressful period. Creativity and self-exploration need not be neglected as we look after our collective health.

Contact me if you would like to begin online therapy or schedule a consultation. All you need is an internet connection and a device that allows for video or at least audio. Online consultations are offered internationally.


I often felt Melissa was sharing the language of my psyche on a collective consciousness or shared consciousness level. She would intuitively understand the role of a defense mechanism and would share in a very authentic way some of her own processes and struggles. This aided me in feeling I was in the presence of a kindred spirit and helped so much with feeling deep empathy from her to assist my healing. I believe this is truly one of her most special gifts for this kind of therapeutic work with clients.

– Client


A Brief Rationale for an Integrative Approach

Music therapist integrative therapy Cape Town  Melissa Ellse
Integrative Therapy in Cape Town with Melissa Ellse

We are all unique 🌟

An integrative therapeutic approach draws thoughtfully from various theories, methods and techniques based on the individual’s strengths, needs and concerns.


There is no one-size-fits-all. It simply does not exist. Every single encounter we have with one another is both meaningful and unique. This is because we are human and beautifully complex.


I’ve learned this first hand in my own therapeutic processes, which is why I strive to be integrative, intuitive and informed in my approach. And my approach will probably not work for everyone, because we are all unique 🌟 and that is truly wonderful.

To find out more, click here.

Are substance-free psychedelic experiences possible?

psychedelic experience guidance cape town south africa spiritual awakening music therapy

Short answer: yes.

Longer answer: I have encountered surprisingly many people (older, younger and from all walks of life) who want to experience something of the the mind-manifesting nature of psychedelics without taking a substance. Some people are averse to the idea of substance-induced altered states of consciousness from pre-conceived ideas about “drugs”, some cannot explore any mind altering substances because of medications or psychological predispositions. Some don’t want to get entangled in something that is not legal. Some simply don’t like the idea of ingesting anything that affects their consciousness so profoundly. Some prefer to be in control. Some are fearful. These are all valid concerns.

Yet still, such individuals seek a transcendent (possibly spiritual) encounter that is different to everyday, waking life and that offers up something deeper, possibly holding more meaning, truth and authenticity than their ‘ordinary’ reality. In my experience, these individuals are usually on a voyage of self-exploration, igniting creativity, navigating a life transition and/or discovering meaning in life. My hope-filled and honest response is always yes, there certainly are ways to enter altered states of consciousness without any substances or plant medicines.

Psychedelic literally means ‘mind-manifesting’ or ‘mind-expanding’, the Greek root is psyche (mind, soul) dêlos (manifest, visible). Meditation is one avenue to such experiences, yet this usually takes a great deal of practice before potentially experiencing anything of a psychedelic nature. Still, I highly recommend a steady meditation practice for many, many reasons which I won’t address here. To get started with a meditation practice, the following apps are very useful: https://wakingup.com/ or https://www.headspace.com/.

I work with music and deep relaxation into an altered state of consciousness, eliciting imagery in the mind’s eye that allows the ‘traveller’ transcendent, even psychedelic-type experiences. However, the ‘traveller’ also retains complete personal control and is able to effortlessly emerge from the experience at any point. No substances or plant medicines are used and they do not need to be in order for the process to be effective. Guided Imagery and Music is a technique developed by Helen Bonny after working alongside the renown psychedelic researcher Stanislov Grof in LSD trials of the sixties. Bonny developed a “non-drug, psychedelic technique of music-listening for psychotherapeutic ends.”

This music-listening technique takes place in a 1.5 hour session, the traveller comfortably lying on a couch in an undisturbed, safe and comfortable setting (such as a therapist’s room). During the session, the guide will talk with the client/traveller and work toward setting an intention for the journey. A specific music program that relates directly to the traveller’s mental set and intention – a music program designed to elicit imagery, emotions, memories and even sensations – is selected by the guide. The traveller is taken through a deepening relaxation induction and reminded of their intention. When the selected music plays, the traveller journeys with the music in this deepened, relaxed and in fact altered state of consciousness.

Imagery, storylines and emotions may appear, sometimes sensations and memories, all emerging from the unconscious mind and guided by the music. During this process, the traveller is always free to ‘come out’ of the experience, should they want to. This is unlike a substance-based psychedelic experience, such as a psilocybin journey, where one is locked into the journey until the substance/medicine wears off. The guide asks questions and helps to deepen and intensify the experience. Afterward, the traveller makes marks on paper (creates a mandala), which is a creative output that helps to solidify and integrate the journey and is used for verbally processing the experience.

Guided Imagery and Music sessions are usually conducted once a week over a period of time, as personal narratives, archetypal material and images from the unconscious are developed and worked with.

If you are interested in exploring your consciousness through an alternative, experiential and substance-free way, click here. Offered in Cape Town, South Africa.

Note: BMGIM guides require extensive and rigorous training. I am currently in advanced training in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music.

Grinding Into The Pain

Embracing Pain

What happens when Pain visits a little too often, a little too long? Like an obnoxious guest who overstays her welcome, talking and talking without listening, eating and eating without offering. Well perhaps this is uncomfortable, but just bearable. After all, it is not all that uncommon. And then perhaps, what if Pain decides to visit a great deal too often and a great deal too long? What if the visitor decides not to leave? What if the talking and the eating just don’t stop – on and on and on. What are we to do then? What happens when we are held hostage?

Do we have any control over pain’s inevitable and suffocating visitations? According to the Stoic Epictetus,

Some things are in our control, while others are not. We control our opinion, choice, desire, aversion, and, in a word, everything of our own doing. We don’t control our body, property, reputation, position, and, in a word, everything not of our own doing. Even more, the things in our control are by nature free, unhindered and unobstructed, while those not in our control are weak, slavish, can be hindered, and are not our own.

Epictetus, Enchiridion, 1.1-2

The pain of loss, grief, depression, neurochemistry, external events such as motor car accidents and more – these are not in our control. This may be disheartening or even crushing when fully realised. Why am I forced to sit by while Pain visits the full reign of hell upon me? Why am I not allowed to eject Pain, to revoke visitation rights? How can I escape? Why am I not even permitted to escape my own home with what little I have left? This is a brutal invasion!

As the Stoic relates, the sense of control sought in our bitter fight against Pain is won in our thinking, our choices and our exposure to that which will help us reframe our attitude toward our relationship with pain. Ultimately, our gains are made in our own relationship with and to pain. To those experiencing true, unadulterated suffering, this idea may be received as trite or it may even be impossible to imagine. However, even where chronic mental, emotional or physical pain are involved, the ‘Enemy’ that is Pain can change into something new, something more approachable, something we can negotiate with and engage with in a more balanced relationship. Pain does not have to remain the Enemy, it can become the Teacher, the Healer, even the Beatific Vision. Never losing it’s identity as Pain, and never lessening or coming under our control, Pain’s visits – even those long, excruciating and seemingly never-ceasing visits, can be experienced differently, without fear and without loss of control. The transformation and growth, even healing, that Pain can bring – if we let it – is illustrated in the lines below.

What is pain but a reminder that we are

grinding into the ground

flung into the fight

grating against the wound

slicing into the light

walking the two worlds

lost in daylight, found in night

taking the clean medicine

gaining vision, losing sight.

There are practical steps to forging this new relationship with pain. These really depend on the individual, but in general it is not an overnight process. Meditative practices, including mindfulness techniques and yoga help many. Exercise and diet/nutrition – as insufficient as that seems in the face of enormous pain – can play a large role in re-negotiating your relationship with Pain. Broadly, relationships, spirituality, talking, creating, music, nature and stillness are all ways to explore this different way of relating to Pain.

I wish you well on your journey. For more information on renegotiating your relationship with Pain, contact me by clicking here.

Bipolar Lifestyle Support

“… despite how bipolar disorder may leave one feeling, there is realistic and attainable hope for balance, positivity, health and meaningful living.”

Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with bipolar disorder? Struggling with uncontrollable mood fluctuations, unpredictable energy levels and unpleasant medication side effects? Treatment options failing you?

Bipolar is a complex disorder. The medical model offers some assistance with various medications, but it often falls short of providing lasting relief. In order to survive and thrive in daily life, it is essential that a treatment is integrative and holistic, taking the entire person and their unique story, symptoms, strengths, needs and desires into account.

I help people establish and maintain healthy, positive lifestyles, manage symptoms and concerns as well as facilitate a deeper knowledge of the Self. ‘Lifestyle’ factors are far more important than they are often given credit for. Diet, exercise, sleep, mindset, daily structure and relationships are some examples of lifestyle factors that influence the progression of the disorder and maintenance of wellness.

Practical and experienced, empathic assistance is greatly beneficial for establishing and helping maintain positive lifestyle factors, managing symptoms and medical/non-medical treatment options, providing accountability, reality-checking and validation.

Along with receiving practical advice and lifestyle assistance (where necessary), my clients embark on a process of deeper engagement with the Self, wherein we utilise verbal dialogue and creative, symbolic work. It is a process of meaning-making. Together, we will trace your self-story (sometimes called a personal mythology), which is a meaningful, individualised life-narrative based on your particular experiences, beliefs, personal symbols and meaning-making process . We map this purposeful, unique and continuous self-story onto your current experiences and defining beliefs, as well as connecting the story with larger, archetypal (or universal) psychological and spiritual patterns. This provides us with a mythological or spiritual heritage, so to speak.

Essentially, this process elevates the struggle (depression, mania, psychosis, broken relationships, internal battles, self-harm, addiction, shame, intrusive thoughts etc.) and affirms the Self and it’s various, oft-unrecognised accomplishments.

You can discover meaning, transformation and different perspectives, behaviour change and a sense of your connectedness to a larger pattern or story. You can rediscover ownership of your experiences, your life narrative and the direction you choose to go. You can find hope and confidence for facing the future, or even the present.

Any teens or adults can engage in this process, no matter the current mood state.

Bipolar disorder is associated with a relatively high prevalence of suicide and should be taken very seriously. Besides the risk of suicide, the impact that various mood states can have on an individual’s relationships, commitments and self-worth may also be devastating. However, in spite of, or perhaps because of extreme mood states, individual’s have an unusually great opportunity for self-mastery, connection, creativity, awareness and self-knowledge, which in turn radiate outward in relationships and affect the world in positive ripples.

The message is this: despite how bipolar disorder may leave one feeling, there is realistic and attainable hope for balance, positivity, health and meaningful living. Accessing this knowledge is admittedly extremely difficult at times and experienced, empathic support can be invaluable to gaining greater traction on one’s life or maintaining wellness.

For more information on Bipolar Support, please click here.

~ Melissa McWalter Ellse, HPCSA registered arts therapist (AT 0001350)

Tips for a Happy Holiday: Bipolar Christmas Planning

bipolar christmas coping strategies

Christmas is a difficult time for many people. There are financial obligations, family obligation and often many end-of year events that lead up toward Christmas, increasing the feeling of time-pressure and burnout that may already be present.

One of the reasons Christmas time is particularly difficult for individuals with bipolar disorder or depression is the lack of structure that permeates holidays. For those with bipolar disorder, having a predictable structure, a routine, and goal-oriented tasks are known to be extremely helpful for stabilising moods and preventing relapses or spiralling out of control. When the usual work/school structure falls away and no preparations have been made for the holidays and how one will cope, symptoms such as depression, mania, high levels of anxiety and even suicidality can crop up.

Because structure is important for your mental-wellbeing, it is a good idea to begin planning your routine for the holidays now, before the open, lazy days are upon you. I suggest you make a calendar (or update your calendar) based on the following suggestions and the coping strategies you already use. Here are some questions to get you thinking about possible ways forward:

  1. Is there a project you have been putting off that you can dedicate some time to each day? Schedule time to work on it into your calendar. This may be 2 hours daily, 30 minutes daily, or even 60 minutes every second or third day. Decide what you want to commit to and ensure that you have a regular entry for this activity in your calendar.
  2. Are there Christmas gifts or cards that you can make instead of buy – saving you money and providing you with a meaningful activity at the same time?
  3. Is there a friend or relative (or more than one) who you can meet with regularly, perhaps weekly for coffee or a walk, and schedule that meeting into your calendar? Alternatively, can you set up some meeting dates for during the holidays with various individuals?
  4. Can you ensure that your exercise routine remains relatively structured despite the ambiguity of holiday days? (If you don’t have an exercise routine, now would be a good time to put one into practice. Begin with a walk every day – or as often as possible – if you are starting from scratch.) We know exercise has strong mood benefits and it is obviously also great for keeping in shape and general physical health. If you are taking a break from exercise for a while in the holidays, I encourage you to continue with a light form of exercise like walking in order to still gain the mood benefits.
  5. Can you use social media and TV watching in an intentional manner: for example, as a reward for engaging in structured and meaningful activities, instead of opting for TV or Facebook in long, unregulated sessions? Too much social media is linked to depression and screen time easily sucks real time away. Because of this, one’s daily structure is disrupted and feelings associated with depression may emerge. This is true for most people, but those with bipolar disorder should be extra-aware of their screen time.
  6. Are there decisions you need to make about Christmas itself – which events you will go to, which you won’t, which you’ll host, which you won’t? If you feel you need to avoid certain shops/malls (or even people!) on certain days (such as busy Christmas Eve), make note of that now and schedule accordingly.
  7. Are you able to ensure that you have an exit strategy (such as taking your own car) for events that you are anxious about or hesitant to attend?
  8. Can you plan some ‘me-time’ activities, scheduling in a few things that you really enjoy and that feed your soul? Ensure it is scheduled in your calendar because these are easily the first things to fall away when demands compete; if you have kids, can you find someone to help you by looking after them during the scheduled ‘me-time’? Fit your activity to your pocket: a walk on the beach is free!
  9. Can you try keep to a regular sleep schedule, as much as is possible? This regularity is extremely helpful for maintaining a stable mood and sleep itself is revitalising and regenerating during times of wellness and ill health.
  10. Can you avoid over-indulging with alcohol? Too much alcohol consumption will certainly affect the mood negatively and if coupled with lack of sleep and lack of structure, the outcome may be damaging.
  11. Can you keep a journal, with as much or little detail as you like, in order to help track your thoughts, feelings, sleeping habits (monitoring that you are not losing sleep significantly) and general mood? This is also very helpful in the long-run, as you can reflect on your writings in the future and realise coping strategies, helpful activities or even triggers that you were not initially aware of.

I encourage you to begin working on a schedule that takes these questions into consideration. The holidays can be a happy, relaxing time but may need some extra thought and planning for those with bipolar disorder.

For more bipolar support, book a session by clicking here.

How Guided Imagery and Music can transform your life

self-compassion, the perfect gift, therapy, music therapy, own your life, write your own song, spiritual transformation, growth, healing, address trauma, inner child, relationship work, resilience, reduce anxiety, address self-harm, avoid self-sabotage, know yourself, know thyself, music and consciousness,psychonaut, psychedelics, guidance, music therapy south africa, music tehrapy cape town, music tehrapy, melissa ellse, self-development work, teen therpist, creative process, process work, intensive process work, depression, anxiety, Jungian, shamanism, Shaman
Book a transformative session in the leafy Southern Suburbs of Cape Town, South Africa. Be kind to yourself, or offer the gift of self -compassion, creative exploration and self-discovery to a loved one. The Bonny Guided Imagery of Music (BMGIM) is a form of music and image based psychotherapy that requires extensive training in mythical, pathological, archetypal, practical and other modules over three years. The qualification has it’s roots in the psychedelic experimentation and training that took pace in the 50s and 60s in labs in the United States, effective therapeutic modalities which are being resurrected now. BMGIM (The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music), emerging out of this field and growing exponentially, borrows language such as ‘Guide’ and ‘Traveller’ and even ‘Journey’. Travellers are likely to experience altered states of consciousness, unlike a drug-induces state (far more controlled than a drug-induced state) yet still reap the benefits of accessing deeply unconscious, sometimes mythological and archetypal material. Currently, I am in advanced training in BMGIM and find that my client’s BMGIM encounters are potent and hold tranformative potential, as well as the potential for deep rest, growth and healing. This topic is certain to be discussed at the upcoming World Congress of Music Therapy in Pretoria at The University of Pretoria in 2020.
.
Guided imagery is for adults and most teens, men and women. If you are unsure whether it is for you or are interested in finding out more about this transformative and creative way of working, contact me: https://melissaellse.co.za/contact/
Please note, no previous ‘creative endeavours’ are necessary, such as art or music etc. Come as you are.