Born in 1981, Rachel Jepson started getting into music in the late 80s and 90s. Tricky, Martina Topley-Bird, Juliana Hatfield and Jill Scott sound tracked her youth. As she grew older, she got into making music herself by singing in a big band. Currently, Rachel is now a qualified counsellor, mother, radio presenter, author and one half of acoustic act, Black Lake Hotel. Though it was initially her plan to make her name through music, Rachel is now an esteemed professional in the mental health sector and gained global recognition and support through founding her company ‘Counselling for Musicians’ in 2017. Her service has worked with organisations such as the NHS, BUPA and AnxietyUK and strives to fill the gap in mental health support and awareness surrounding those in the music industry.
We got a chance to talk to the ‘Women in Music Award’ nominee and founder of Counselling For Musicians about her brilliant work in the music and mental health sector.
In January and February 2020, her band Parent recorded their EP, the band was booked for a few gigs, but it didn’t happen due to coronavirus. Despite the pandemic halting live music, Rachel hasn’t let that stop her from being creative during lockdown. Going forward as a musician, Rachel tells us her band are in the process of writing an album. Throughout lockdown, the band collaborated with an animator to do a music video. The video was released on Halloween and won Judge’s Choice at an anime video awards ceremony. Alongside musical talents, Rachel is also an established writer – it was this that catapulted her into founding Counselling for Musicians.
“I wrote an article for Therapy Today and the editor at the time, Catherine Jackson, was really encouraging for what I was doing, and it made me think oh okay, maybe I could do this on a larger scale,” Rachel explains.
“[I can] actually write a book and put some client transcripts in there because that was basically what the article was and then yeah, I kind of ran with that. I was also at the time hosting a radio show. Musicians and industry professionals would come in and talk to me about their experiences with mental health, so those two things really inspired me to write the book.”
Her book “Mental Health In The Music Industry: A Guide,” expanded on the article she wrote for Therapy Today and was separated into 12-13 chapters detailing mental health related issues she felt were most prevalent in the music industry. Her analysis of case studies including Kurt Cobain and Boy George forces people to change the way they look at artists. She breaks down their experiences and encourages critical thinking around the music industry. The book explores the importance of removing people from a pedestal that will only do them more harm than good.
The journey from musician to mental health professional has transformed Rachel’s definition of success. “For me it’s definitely changed over the years,” she says. “But that’s a natural thing as your needs change, as your situation changes, your circumstances… success to me now is to make a good living out of something you enjoy doing and possibly on another note, being well known for it? But that again, has become a fairly recent thing for me. I know that a lot of people want to be the next big thing and famous for what they’re doing – that definitely eased off for me. I don’t think I wanted to be like the next big thing – I just really loved singing.”
On her own journey and progress, Rachel admits to the life-altering change she underwent as she began to train as a counsellor.
“Once you start on the therapy training and all that kind of stuff, you just carry on doing it for the rest of your life,” she explains. “You’re always growing, always developing, I love having my mind open about stuff. I love admitting that I’m wrong about something or that maybe that I’ve had a different view on something that is maybe not quite right. Or that I was quite narrow-minded about something. I love that I can change my definition of things, you know, depending on my circumstances and what’s happening to me. It’s a process, it’s always flowing, always fluid, that’s what I love about mental health and being in this world, it’s just great.”
The exact moment Rachel decided to make the decision to counsel for the music industry was an intimate one – in the comfortable silence of rocking her three-month-old (at the time) baby to sleep.
“I always had a lot of time to think in those moments,” she says. “A lot of things were born in those moments, a lot of thoughts that I had, and it’s something that I thought about whilst I was finishing up my training because I’ve researched provision for mental health in music. I can’t remember what kind of inspired to do that, maybe I’d been struggling a bit with my mental health and was starting to realise that maybe that was to do with my experiences in music.”
After researching it, Rachel found a few charities and organisation that offered help to musicians, but nobody was doing counselling at that time. “I say at that time because that’s changed massively,” she adds. “And I kind of came back to that moment when I was rocking my son and thinking okay this is something I can actually do. In a few months when I’m off maternity leave, I’m gonna really explore this, I’ve got to do this. So yeah, I met up with someone from Help Musicians and we shared ideas going forward with counselling. Then I founded Counselling for Musicians a few months later and haven’t really looked back. Basically, I just kind of pestered a lot of people – like I’m a counsellor, I’m a musician, and you know I can offer this.”
But it turns out her ‘pestering’ paid off and she secured work with institutions like BIMM to provide counselling for musicians. Her personal history as a performer in the music industry helped provide her with valuable transferrable skills that combatted her initial nerves and anxieties as a newly qualified counsellor.
‘I remember specifically in that first placement session, before they turned up thinking this is it now, this is what you wanted to do, this is the moment, you’re gonna be great. I remember thinking you’ve got up on stage to thousands of people like that is…this is you know nothing compared to that. Of course, you know you can’t really compare that as it is you know just as nerve-wracking to be with one person.”
“I remember kind of specifically saying that to myself and I do sometimes when I’m doing a workshop or something that I’m a bit nervous about. I’ll think you’ve got you’ve gone into like massive places and loads be like this is nothing compared to that and I don’t know whether that’s necessarily true but it’s what I tell myself in those moments.”
When discussing her hopes for the industry Rachel hopes management companies and labels start investing money into counsellors and being mindful of the mental health of their clients.
“I think that it would be really beneficial if that happened. If management companies and record labels put a budget aside for mental health. I know some are, not the major labels as far as I know, but there are smaller labels that are still doing quite well.
Considering the recent, shocking documentary Framing Britney and its exposé on how the music industry can destroy an individual’s mental health, Rachel’s emphasis on the need for support for musicians is especially poignant. “Personally, I believe that and there does need to be when someone goes in and signs a contract,” she stresses. “In that scenario, there does need to be a ‘right this is what we’re doing to help you with your mental health and well-being, and this is what we’re putting in there.’ I don’t see why that couldn’t happen – they’ve got a responsibility to make sure that you know people are safe and feel okay, [and that] there is a provision for them to go to if they’re feeling down or they need some help with something.”
One of the key issues Rachel wishes to combat, is changing the narrative of the disposability of musicians. People are made to feel that if they don’t cave into what management wants of them, that they’ll be replaced – this is an experience Rachel has experienced herself 20 years ago.
“That is still happening now,” she says, “So that is really disappointing and there definitely needs to be a bit of a switch of ‘right we understand that you’re struggling, these things need to be done at some point, but right now you know, what do you need? If you can’t do these things, maybe we can put it on hold and maybe we could just do it in a little bit of time.’ There’s no HR department is there? There’s nobody to sit down with and say ‘my boss is doing this, my boss is saying this, I find it really difficult, I need a week at home but I can’t because they won’t let me take any time off.’ There’s nobody like that so it’s very much you’re lucky to be here, and if you don’t want to do it, someone else is going to do it. That whole culture for me massively needs to change.”
With regards to the future, Rachel is currently working on a Masters but hints that there’s a PhD in the pipeline. She plans to continue trying to change and incorporate things into the industry, as well as representing more musicians. As she is doing counselling on her own, she doesn’t have to deal with the politics of charities and instead, can offer an authentic service as a musician who has overcome her own struggles with mental health.
Counselling for Musicians offers a two-hour workshop for music students that educates them on the mental health implications of joining the music industry. As well this, she provides one-to-one and group counselling sessions that have been taking place over videocall throughout the pandemic, which has simultaneously allowed her to connect with clients all over the world. However, Rachel is eager to get back to face to face appointments. Rachel’s message for people looking into her work is a compassionate one. She says there is no pressure to contact her unless you feel it’s time to make that step but that she’d love to hear from anybody who wants to come to her for help.
If you are a musician or work in the music industry and are struggling with your mental health – there is help available. Reach out for it.
Check out more of Rachel Jepson’s work below:
Facebook: Rachel Jepson