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Guitar and Stethoscope
Guitar and Stethoscope
In Alfred Hitchcock' thriller Vertigo, the hero is hospitalized in a catatonic state after witnessing the horrifying death of the woman he loves. The psychiatrist puts on a record of classical music, but the patient' despairing friend (would-be girlfriend) says something to the effect of: “I don’t think Mozart is going to help.”
It's a powerful image. But fortunately, music therapy has a much better track record than that.
Defining Music Therapy
First, a definition. According to the American Music Therapy Association, Inc. (http:musictherapy.org), music therapy is an established health care profession that uses music to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals of all ages.
Music therapists assess the well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities, and cognitive skills of clients through musical responses. They then design music sessions for individuals and groups. Working in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, outpatient clinics, day care treatments, agencies serving the developmentally disabled, senior residences, and schools-as well as in private practice-music therapists participate in interdisciplinary treatment teams along with social workers, doctors, and other professionals to set goals and determine progress.
Music therapy seems to be increasing in appeal as it is applied to new areas-such as wellness programs, neonatal care, prisons, hospices, and dementia units.
Although the roots of music therapy are ancient-think David playing his harp and singing for the depressed King Saul-AMTA says that the 20th-century discipline began after the World Wars. Community musicians went to veterans’ hospitals around the country to play for veterans suffering from both physical and emotional trauma and observed their improvement. The first music therapy degree program in the world was established at Michigan State University in 1944. The association itself was founded in 1998, as the merger of two earlier umbrella organizations.
Music therapists must complete an approved college music therapy curriculum-including an internship-and then pass a national exam offered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists. Increasingly, too, social workers and other therapists are seeking music therapy training, and vice versa.
Combining Social Work and Music Therapy
Christine Stevens, who is a board certified music therapist and holds master' degrees in social work and music therapy, came to her interest in the latter through the foster care system in Colorado, where she found that music helped bond kids with attachment disorders to their adoptive parents.
One reason music, as a tool of nonverbal communication therapists can use, is effective is that people “take an active role, even choosing the music they want,” says Stevens, based in Valencia, CA. And drums seem to work particularly well because they are “very immediate, easy to play, accessible, and human,” she adds. “We’re biologically wired to rhythm. We can’t hold still when a good beat is playing.”
Stevens has found drumming helpful in drug and alcohol recovery, particularly in overcoming resistance. “Drumming draws people into the better parts of their selves,” she says. Studies have also shown, Stevens adds, that drumming aids the immune system, counters burnout, and alleviates mood disturbances and chronic pain. And that includes health care professionals and social workers facing burnout who find relief in group drumming.
Barbara Dunn of Clinton, WA, first learned about music therapy from a guidance counselor in high school. Her original plan was to study music therapy and become a psychologist. Later she decided on an MSW, with the intent to “fold” her music therapy into a social work practice. She also studied ethnomusic in New Zealand in an attempt to understand how other cultures use art.
After her master' program, Dunn worked for a while as a medical social worker and incorporated music therapy into her work. “But I really missed the music, so I went back to private practice, where I could more effectively combine the two disciplines.”
There' a great deal of flexibility in music therapy, but the type of music matters a great deal. “It is largely determined by the needs of the client and situation,” Dunn says. “One person may love a certain style of music or a specific artist...that same music might drive another person crazy. Obviously, it would be counterproductive to use it with that person.”
Although music therapists work in a variety of settings, there are individual factors that determine how effective it will be, Dunn says. “For example, it might be less desirable as an intervention if music therapy is offered in a hospital and the patient has been awake all night and needs to sleep. It really has more to do with individual factors that affect someone than with demographics or type of challenge they might be facing.”