A Therapeutic Note

Every year I go through the phase of “What if I had continued on with my music education degree?” I have no regrets really, because in the end I wanted something that really wasn’t being a band director. I wanted to work with bands without administrative red tape. There are jobs within most band programs that fill that idea, but not many, and not full time.

I love music in most forms, and I feel it’s a bit of a “cause” for me because of how important it has been in my life, and how I believe it truly helps people. Which is why I was really excited to find that a good friend had taken a route with music that not enough people think about – music therapy. There’s a feeling as you approach college as a music student that your options are either to teach music or play music, but that’s just not the case. So I’d like to shed a little light on the work done by Metro Music Therapy and while they may not be in your area, perhaps you or someone you know could benefit from the services offered by groups like them to people of all ages.

Music therapy has been around about as long as instruments have. Through the centuries it’s been said that music could rid a person of demons, delay madness in mental patients, purify the soul, or even aid with healing of diseases. Modern music therapy really began with veterans from World War I and II. Musicians, some quite famous, were sent to hospitals to play for soldiers suffering from mental and physical trauma as the result of battle. The results of these musical interactions were discussed for years. William Congreve wrote that now famous (often misquoted) line, “Music hath charms to soothe a savage beast…” but did you know it goes on to say, “…to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” Congreve was on to something there, music takes hold of people in an almost indescribable way.

So what is modern music therapy? From the website, “Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. It is an established health service similar to occupational therapy and physical therapy and consists of using music therapeutically to address physical, psychological, cognitive and/or social functioning for clients of all ages.” In short, music therapists work with people who have any number of disabilities and use music to help in the way they live. If you are a mother who had a special “labor mix” on your iPod, you have used music therapeutically. So this is an idea that many people have used in their life while perhaps not knowing it. I took this opportunity to ask my friend, Mallory Even – who owns and operates Metro Music Therapy, a few questions that go outside the realm of the information provided on the website.

My first question was the one I was most interested to hear the answer. As a former music education major, I’m well aware that music therapy is not an obvious choice to most people. It’s something Mallory aims to change for other students.

With so many career choices involving music, what made you choose music therapy?
“I actually thought I wanted to be a band director throughout my time in high school, so I started out as a music education major my freshman year at Florida State. During one of our general music courses, Dr. Jayne Standley came to speak to our class about her work as a music therapist in the NICU. I had never heard of music therapy before,which I now think is sad and have made it a mission of mine to educate high school students about music therapy as a career choice. I was completely amazed that there was a field that combined my love for music and my passion for helping people. That same day, I walked into Dr. Standley’s office and told her I wanted to change my major.”

Dr. Standley has done some amazing work with pre-mature babies. Her research and efforts with The Florida State University has found them third in the nation for music therapy programs. You can learn more about Dr. Standley and her work right here.

How would people find out about music therapy groups in their area? Would it be doctor referral, internet/word of mouth searching, little of both? 
“If searching for a music therapist in your area, I would start with either The American Music Therapy Association or the Certification Board for Music Therapists – both have databases to help people find music therapists throughout the United States. A doctor’s referral is always a plus (especially if you are hoping to have insurance coverage for music therapy services), and even speech, occupational or physical therapists in your area can be great resources since a lot of music therapists network with those other therapeutic disciplines. (Of course, the internet/word of mouth is always a good option, too!)”

An important thing to reinforce there is that many insurance companies cover some or all of the costs of these therapy sessions.

I’m sure there are tough days (right?), tell me a story about a good moment that keeps you going.
“Definitely tough days … not only while working with challenging clients, but also as a small business owner in a field that can still be considered “new” or “different” by the general population. But, the work that we do is so rewarding that it makes it all worth it. One of my favorite moments as a music therapist could have been easily overlooked by an outsider – as a lot of our “it” moments can be – but, luckily my five-year-old client’s mother was in the room during our session that day. This little girl, we’ll call her “Bella”, was hearing impaired and had recently undergone surgery for bilateral cochlear implants – a surgery that is decided upon by a lot of families only after much thought and consideration for their child’s future. As usual, I started our session with the “hello” song (a simple song I had sung so many times before while Bella would look at me and smile, but usually never make a sound) … “Hello Bella, Hello Bella, Hello Bella, it’s time to say hello!” That morning Bella waved and smiled, but didn’t vocalize anything with me. I told Bella I wanted to sing the song again, and this time I wanted her to try really hard and sing her name with me. “Hello Bella, Hello Bella, Hello Bella, it’s time to say hello!” After I was finished singing that phrase, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Bel-la.”

“Yea, Bella! That was wonderful!! Let’s do it again!!” And we did. We must have sung the “hello” song ten times that day. Bella’s mother remained very quiet and got very teary-eyed as we continued to sing, and finally looked at me and said, “That is the first time she has ever said her name.”

There are so many touching moments that make up a music therapist’s career. The elderly dementia patient that can’t remember their name, where they live, or who their family members are, but who can sing every word to the song, “You Are My Sunshine,” and who smile for the first time in days because you brought that musical memory to them; the child with Autism who remains isolated and withdrawn in their usual daily activities, but engages in eye contact, close proximity to peers, and appropriate social skills during the instrument-play activity in their weekly music therapy group. The changes evoked through music can sometimes appear to be subtle, but as a whole, music therapists are doing some big things.”

Ya know, it’s easy to dismiss a profession that traces back to ideas of tribes performing rituals of song and dance to cure illness. Yet, we live in a world that has blamed death and tragedy on music time and time again. It’s clear that people know that music is a powerful thing, but I’m not sure people know how beautifully powerful it can become when channeled in the right way. We all have a song that brings a smile to our face, ones that makes us feel calm or remind us of a perfect moment, and using that idea to help people is pretty special. These amazing people design programs for each individual person which can even include instrument lessons. It’s clearly rewarding and an industry that deserves a little spotlight.

If you know of someone who might benefit from music therapy. Look into it, please!

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