Media Reviews

Music Therapy Strikes Chord – ChicagoTalks.org

I was asked to speak about music therapy by a student journalist from Columbia College, Izzy Gut, who was enthusiastic about music and intrigued by music therapy.  I spoke with her in route to the American Music Therapy Association’s Great Lakes Regional Conference in Columbus, Ohio.  In the car with me was friend and colleague Ellen Rayfield, so Izzy was lucky to get us 2 for 1 for her interview.  Our regional President, Tracey Richardson, was happy to add a bit more to the conversation post conference.  It was a joy to come back from an inspiring week of information sharing, to have this article, “Music Therapy Strikes Chord” on ChicagoTalks.com to share with all of you.

Cheers – keep singing.

Victoria

Music Therapy

Getting un-stuck through music

Upon presenting at the Illinois Psychological Association, a colleague asked me what I thought about hard rock, death metal, and other forms of aggressive music often listened to by the teens in his psychotherapy practice.

This form of expression is just that – self expression. Think about what you want to hear when you are feeling sad or upset. I bet it isn’t the light smooth sounds of the Jackson 5 – or maybe it is. Most people need some time to stay in an emotional state and process it. Maybe take some time to cool down or self soothe.

I recommend my clients use music that matches their mood when feeling moments of unease. It is my sense that this is what is happening with listening to aggressive music. Some will argue they “just like it”, but why? Aren’t our choices in art reflective of something we either need or understand deeply? Are we not relating to another when we consume their art? We are less alone when someone speaks their truth to us through art.

The trick is this. Choose another set of tunes to listen to. Don’t wallow in music of misery and pain and anger. Use it, relate to it, consume it, and then move to the next level of emotional strength. Maybe it’s still aggressive music, but this time in a major key. Ever heard Messiaen’s pipe organ music? It is wild and intense. How about moving from Screamo to Heavy Metal to Ornette Coleman, to ballads from intense bands, for example. Explore the qualities of the music you love, and move the dial from anger to energy, from sadness to calm, from breakups to survival.

What is on your playlist of healthy mood music? Seriously – I’d love to know.

Keep humming.

– Victoria

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Music Therapy

FAQs about my music therapy sessions

Recently one of my contract sites (where I work exclusively with children) asked me to provide them with some information in consideration of a story in their magazine.  I always love the opportunity to talk about the work I do, and I thought I would share some of my responses here with you as well.

 

1.      What is the role/purpose of the music therapy program –how do you adapt that role to the different age groups of patients? And to their different conditions?

Music is an incredibly flexible tool that in the hands (or voice) of a music therapist can be melded into exactly what a patient needs in that moment.  The needs of the patient may be for soothing and pain abatement – I can play a quiet simple chord progression and sing a simple melody that can lull a child in distress into a state of calm, even sleep.  I have used repetitive drumming patterns to create a state of predictability upon which a teenager can express feelings of loneliness, fear, gratitude, or resiliency.  I have worked with patients to play through their favorite songs, or create an original musical composition.  When possible and appropriate, I like to record these into an audio file that the patient can then keep.  Sometimes my goal for a child is to simply explore musical play – to be silly within the music and have a good time.  This is a way to elevate their mood and improve their perception of their current situation.  It also reminds the kids, especially those who are not musicians, that there are ways of having fun in life that they may not have discovered yet.  This is essential for kids with new injuries or new limitations.

Patients of all ages and ability levels can benefit from music therapy interventions.  Adaptations based on a patient’s interests and their physical, cognitive, or musical abilities are made in the moment.  I assess the level of functioning and the need for change through consultation with the staff and family members, as well as with the patient when that patient has a particular desire in mind.  Being with a patient in the music together creates magical moments of connection and understanding, through which patients can meet and sometimes exceed their goals.

My goals fall into the realm of psychosocial or developmental growth, pain reduction, or improvement of their physical or speech functioning.  I use the motivating factors in music which are psychologically and neurologically hard wired, to achieve change in functioning.  There in lies the difference between music therapy, and entertainment or eduction.

 2.      Give me an idea of the range – kinds of instruments, types of music?

The types of music depend on the style that the patient prefers.  Research (and common sense) shows that when a patient is introduced to their favorite type or style of music, they will be more engaged in the process.  This requires a high level of versatility on the part any music therapist.  The instruments we use are a combination of acoustic guitar, piano, electric keyboard, djembe, bells, and other hand-held percussion instruments.  We can also use recorded music and all the tools accessible via the music applications on the web.  Some favorites are musical instrument games and recording apps.

3.      Is there a particular patient who especially benefited from music therapy that you remember? Tell me a little about that encounter?

I remember one young woman in particular who was a poet.  She was a quadriplegic aided by her sip/puff chair.  We listened to music together over the course of a few weeks, talked about the lyrics, talked about her life and her goals.  She played her favorite songs for me and I was able to emulate a similar sound on the guitar.  She wrote a series of poems, and I helped her to form those lines into melodic phrases, a lot like her musical genre of choice.  By the end of a few sessions together we recorded her song with her singing along.  She thanked me many times for offering her the opportunity to express herself with such authenticity.

Recently I met with a little girl who guided me at the piano through the scenes of her favorite movie.  This movie was full of danger and toil, to which we played our “dangerous sounds” as well as our “happy music” when the princess triumphed over her oppressors.  I asked her if she ever felt like that princess – she told me how she had fallen that day, but like the princess, she had to pick herself up and keep going.  We explored and celebrated that success at the piano so she was ready for another day of challenging therapy.

4.      What are the credentials for a music therapist?

As a board certified music therapist (MT-BC) I have both a bachelors and masters degree in music, majoring in music therapy.  To become board certified, a 6 month full time clinical music therapy internship and comprehensive exam must be completed after completion of an approved/accredited bachelors degree.  Continuing education must be fulfilled on a five-year cycle to maintain this certification.  More information can be obtained at www.cbmt.org or www.musictherapy.org, the Certification Board for Music Therapists, and the American Music Therapy Association, respectively. A useful annotated bibliography can also be referenced at http://www.musictherapy.org/assets/1/7/bib_habilitation.pdf.

Have a wonderful rest of November, continuing to be thankful and grateful for all that you have.  Keep singing.

– Victoria

Media Reviews

Dream comes true for girl with autism

  If you haven’t seen this clip from last night’s Comedy Central fundraiser for autism programs, now is your chance.  It shares the story of how Jodi DiPiazza’s natural interest in music became a tool for her self expression beyond her learning struggles due to autism.  Her mother says that music is how she “makes herself known”.  What a wonderful tool to communicate who we are – through music.  Watch Jodi accompanying and singing “Firework” with Katy Perry herself.  Whether you are a fan of Katy Perry or not, I think you’ll be moved by watching them perform together.

“Firework” has been a regular song in my list of tunes for therapy for a couple of years now.   It speaks of resilience in the face of struggle, and celebrating one’s uniqueness and finding one’s strength.  We could all use a reminder of our inner power now and again.

Now, I know nothing about this particular girl except that she has made great strides in defying the limitations imposed by her autism.  When we give our children the tools, the opportunities, and the loving environment to succeed, sometimes they can really surprise us.  The same is certainly true in music therapy.  

I’m always excited to share what I know about music.  The way we can to get to the heart of a feeling with or without words is profound.  My connection with my clients who have emotional struggles, intellectual limitations, or disorders in communication show me every day how music is indeed a bridge to the heart.  And my heart says that being connected to another human being, even in moments of being musical together, can make the difference between a good day and a difficult one.

Congrats little Jodi on a job well done, and to you Ms. Perry for sharing a really great tune with all of us.

For the rest of us, let’s keep singing.

Magical Moments, Making Music

Moments of beauty and meaning

Since my last post many weeks ago, I have been blessed to be a part of so many incredible moments of transformation and healing. As a music therapist, I have held moments of connection with the clients I serve. As a musician and performer, I have been transformed by the act of sharing music with audiences. It has been an incredibly rich spring, where the buds turned into huge musical blossoms.

In April and May I performed the music of one of my favorite songwriters/composers for intimate gatherings in incredible halls that held the sound so gracefully. I also revisited the art of playing in a hand bell ensemble. Somehow I could feel my brain working in different patterns, isolating the tones, coordinating my movements, and striking the bells at the right time along with my bell-mates. I had forgotten how much fun this was. In May and June I met and guided some incredible children along their journey of discovering their abilities through the experience of making music together. Folk music and campfires have been joyful visits, and the adolescents in my life continue to turn me on to new artists with new inspirations to explore. The women and men in the groups I lead continue to inspire me with their perseverance and desire for greater health.

I am anticipating this summer will spark growth in my one to one work with clients in my studio. A few weeks from now will be marked with a stream of performances, so these days are filled with rehearsals. In the fall I have several speaking engagements, so am excited about the preparation for these exciting events.

At moments of thanks and reflection I wonder, how did this come to be?

By always saying yes to music. Always allowing my love for music to be the guiding force in making decisions about how to spend my time, where to share my energies, how to not over commit myself.

I was not always so diligent, in fact, this is a bit of a new focus for me. I have resolved myself of the guilt of not being involved in every committee that I think is interesting or worth the investment. I found a focus that allows for all of my activities to revolve – it’s music. My work, my private practice, my hobby, my spirituality, my reading, and even my family life — so much of it revolves around being a musician and music appreciator and consumer. What a joyful decision.

What is your passion? What is your focus? How do you choose to spend the precious days we spend on this planet together? What guides you in how you spend you time?

Until next time – enjoy this musical world.