I have been told by people, “You have the best job” and “How wonderful it is you do this.” But more often, I am told “I have never heard of Music Therapy.”
Music Therapy is the use of music by a board certified Music Therapist to achieve nonmusical goals. For example, children may learn academic skills through singing songs. Individuals in an eating disorder treatment program may work on self confidence and acceptance through song writing. Individuals recovering from a traumatic brain injury may play drums to work on coordination and strength. Individuals receiving Music Therapy don’t need to be a musician to experience the benefits. My job is to assess what a client needs, whether it may be academic support, gait training, pain relief, an emotional outlet, opportunities for choice, personal expression, and then create a Music Therapy session targeted to assess the client’s specific needs.
In my work as a Music Therapist:
- An 11 year old girl with autism practiced conversation skills
- Preschool children in an inclusion setting learned animal sounds and color names.
- A family selected the patient’s favorite songs as the patient was actively dying.
- A patient relearned ukulele chords so she could play her late mother’s favorite songs as a tribute to her.
- A patient selected songs to play at her funeral.
- A patient’s niece had the opportunity to play the piano for him during his hospitalization.
- A war veteran shared about his experiences in Vietnam.
- Children in a homeless shelter had opportunities for personal expression and success.
- Dementia patients in long term care decrease agitation while listening to live music.
- Individuals with Parkinson’s Disease rewrote the lyrics to “Don’t Stop Believing” to express how they were coping with their disease.
- A couple celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary in the hospital, reminiscing, listening and singing to music they used to dance to.
The effects of Music Therapy are numerous. One of the most beautiful to observe is when Music Therapy provides the opportunity to form connections. When singing at a bedside vigil for an actively dying patient, the patient’s wife requested “Fields of Gold” a song the patient would call and sing to her on the phone while he was working. During the music, the patient’s breathing slowed and spastic movements decreased and the wife and other visitors all touched the patient’s arms, cried, and shared stories about the patient. Prior to my arrival, the family was all seated away from the patient.
Despite not knowing what Music Therapy is at the beginning of the session, by the end of the session most hospital patients are requesting another session. Upon arrival, they may have rated their anxiety and pain “through the roof,” but at the end of the session they say “I wasn’t even thinking about it. It’s gone.”
So, the next time you are at an individualized education plan meeting for your child, ask about music therapy. When hospitalized, ask about music therapy. When selecting a hospice or receiving hospice care, ask about music therapy. When recovering from a traumatic brain injury, ask about music therapy. Music Therapy can be effective for nearly every client-so please don’t hesitate to speak to a member of your care team about how to receive Music Therapy.
To learn more about Music Therapy or find a Music Therapist in your area, please visit www.musictherapy.org.
Has music helped you make it through a difficult time in your life? Share your experience in the comments section below.