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Therapy in Music
Music is a language. Its grammatical elements include melody, harmony, rhythm, form, sometimes, lyrics. It is a universal language and just about everyone knows something about it because most people spend hours at least listening to it. You might even be able to say that we listen more to music than to some significant people in our lives!
We also dance to music. It enters us mind and body. We move to it and are moved by it. When words alone fail, it can be that music is what reaches in, touches us, enables us to express.
I am a board certified music therapist. I work with people one on one and in small groups of 4 to 6. I see children teens, young to middle age to elder adults, male and female, musician/singer, and non.
I’ve run many different topic focused groups. ‘Singing with your Spouse’ is one to strengthen the bond sand the fun between people in committed relationships. My ongoing series of ‘Circles of Sound’ have focused on: surviving from and thriving after sexual abuse, trauma and neglect, addiction, personal loss, life transitions. I’ve also worked within family groups. These same issues can be relevant in individual sessions.
In music, time is here and now for the limited period of a song. We can gently touch upon something that’s hard to reach, and then move away. We can remember and reprogram memory.
We can practice communicating.
Yesterday, an elder client came in to see me. His gait was unsteady and his sentences were halting and unfinished.
“My memory is off”, he told me.
We warmed up our voices. I asked him to let his body be supported by the stool on which he sat, let himself come up from that support, and look out and up more.
“The voice will follow the eyes”, I instructed.
Then, we sang. My singing and piano matched and encouraged his pace and level of certainty.
“I don’t remember this piece”, he said.
I verbalized shortened lyric phrases, and then we would sing them. I commented on the poor rhyming of 2 lines and we laughed. He offered a better word option so we replaced the written one. By song 2, he began to lead me some in the music. I continued to sing with him, but more quietly now. In the 3rd song’s refrain, he started singing some harmony. He sang the last song about 50% from memory. When he left, his walk was steady and his smiling face glowed.
In another session, a young woman came in to see me. We’d been working together for some time; she’d suffered severe abuse in childhood. Today was to be one of our last meetings together.
She shared that she was feeling some very positive changes, and that they were sticking. We talked first and it was a good talk. Then we transitioned to music.
I set up some appropriate instruments, always inviting voice also. In order to provide a musical sharing space, I played an initial, repeating, two-bar phrase of melody and rhythm, an ostinato. Then, together, we began: we listened, played, responded, supported, led and followed, moved from soft to louder, and found an ending, stopping as one.
In the music and after, there were tears. There was more eye contact and the client’s body movement became more fluid. Her breathing changed and her face relaxed.
She said, “This has been a place where I’ve been able to feel, and enjoy connection; I had not been able even to tolerate very much of that before.”
Opening more, a greater willingness to take chances, less holding back, more self-acceptance, fuller integration of self, more life: these are some literal descriptors. But the music said it much better.
General Music Therapy Information
As a board certified music therapist, I work alone, and I coordinate with other professionals to outline goals and objectives for treatment. As a music therapist, I use already composed music, as well as improvised and originally composed music to help all kinds of people with all kinds of life challenges.
When music therapy became a profession in the 1940’s in hospitals, to help soldiers during and following World War II. Now, music therapy is in the schools, assisted living and end of life care facilities, alcohol and drug recovery programs, pediatric hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and more. Its proponents include Dr. Oliver Sacks, The Grammy Awards Academy, many nurses, medical doctors, speech therapists, teachers, psychologists, social workers, countless families of people who are on the autism spectrum, and just about everyone who has music therapy come into their lives.
Music is a powerful, creative , engaging, and awakening modality. It can be as simple as a single beat, a few notes of melody, or 2 sounds together. It can be as complex as a symphonic orchestra playing Beethoven, or an Afro-Cuban poly-rhythm ensemble.
Music is a shelter, a container of experience that has a beginning and an end. Music has time and moves us through time in such ways as to bring us into the moment. It can lower tension, open our eyes, start us moving, bring us together, and simultaneously light up more different parts of the brain than just about anything else we do. It can give us enough safety to risk beginning to express what has been unspeakable, and enough depth to be capable of meeting some of the most difficult of challenges.
Music therapy has a wide variety of methodologies. Therapists can be very diverse, specializing either in terms of what problems they treat, or in terms of how they use the music. I am a Voice and Music Therapist.