By Mindy Rubenstein
TARPON SPRINGS — Colorful fabrics, special soft chairs, art supplies, a guitar, drums and a keyboard fill Anna Weaver's office.
Weaver uses a combination of art and music to help children and adults who may not respond to other types of therapy, and while it may sound fun and lighthearted, it's actually a serious business of healing.
"The live music helps get the children's focus and attention, and the tempo and melodies help them feel safe and uninhibited," said Weaver, a counselor and music therapist with Tempo! of Tampa Bay — Center for Counseling and Creative Arts Therapies in Tarpon Springs.
Some patients have attention deficit disorder, sensory processing dysfunction or autism, and others have unique issues that stem from adoption, such as questions about their biological parents and why they look different than the rest of their family.
Weaver's main focus is children, but she works with all ages, including patients with dementia and traumatic brain injuries.
"Music Therapy is actually more neurological in its approach than anything," she said.
Music therapists must have at least a bachelor's degree and national board certification.
"Often, people don't realize that music therapists are not just entertainers who play music for people," she said.
Weaver indeed plays music, but the patients get to play, too — guitar, keyboard, etc. They sing together, songs like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and others the kids may know.
They also color, create finger puppets and do other art projects.
One patient with sensory processing dysfunction, for example, sits on a special bouncy ball chair while playing the keyboard, and all the while Weaver is asking the child questions, and she is answering.
In addition to one-on-one therapy sessions, she also offers specialized small group sessions. While her main clientele comes from Pinellas County, she also draws families from Pasco and Hillsborough counties.
On Sunday afternoons, for example, a group of adopted Chinese girls ages 8 to 11 come for what has come to be known as Circle of Hearts, meeting for about two hours in the front room of Weaver's office.
Activities include creating friendship bracelets, making crafts to represent their feelings about their families, as well as music activities to help them learn how to share and take turns.
Some are adopted into families that have biological children and others are the only children in their families.
"This creates a family of sisters for them," Weaver said. "They are very, very close."
Everything is confidential in the group so they can talk about a problem they are having at home or in school, she said. Much of it is learning life skills and how to make their way through life in an appropriate way with self esteem and self awareness.
Sometimes the adoption agency or the Department of Children and Families will suggest adopted children make a "life book" to show where they came from. Weaver has them create a "future book," showing where they see themselves in 15 years.
"It's not a group that dwells on adoption," Weaver said, "but rather basic skills like acting morally and showing respect to others."
The group also is a way for the parents to talk and share resources. The moms usually go out to lunch together while the children are in the therapy session.
"I wanted my daughter to have a place where she can talk about being Asian and living with a Caucasian parent, a place where she can do that without hurting my feelings," said Marcella Gridley of Dunedin, whose 9-year-old daughter, Hailey, attends Garrison Jones Elementary School.
Cindy Sharpe of Thonotosassa was searching for a professional to help her daughter, Corinne, 10, deal with some issues she was having with her heritage and questions about her birth parents. Sharpe heard about Weaver through a Tampa Bay network called Families of Children from China.
Weaver's support group has "helped her socially and to be more communicative, to ask questions and to express her feelings in a very open way," she said. "It's helpful for her to be around other kids who know what she's feeling and to have Anna there to be able to guide the discussion."
Weaver's mission stems from her own experiences as a mother of adopted children. Weaver and her husband adopted the children through the Pennsylvania foster care system. They are now 22 and 15.
"To me, it does not matter where a child was adopted from or the circumstances behind the adoption," she said. "They are children first. Their identity is not based on being adopted; it is based on thriving as unique individuals in society, just as all children strive to do."