Patients Find Harmony in Musical Therapy
Music therapy is a growing profession that uses music to help treat people who are suffering from an illness, handicap or disability. Music therapists work alongside other healthcare professionals to improve the physical and emotional health of their clients.
This type of therapy is generally used with people who have mental health needs, developmental and learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, brain injuries, physical disabilities or chronic pain, according to the American Music Therapy Association.
The therapist will use their musical responses to test how the client functions and communicates, when a client comes to a music therapist. After that, the therapist will be able to set up a treatment plan that they feel will help improve the emotional or physical health of the client.
“Music can be used to stimulate the mind and give motivation to people, or be a distraction from pain. It’s rehabilitative for people. It moves them toward something,” said Dale Misenhelter, music professor at the University of Arkansas.
Carrie Jenkins is a music therapist who opened a therapy center in Northwest Arkansas this month called Cardinal Care Center. She has worked with numerous people suffering from educational and social needs, different kinds of disabilities and mental retardation.
During the past couple of years, Jenkins had been working with a young boy with autism. When Jenkins first met him, he refused to talk to her or anyone else in the clinic.
“After a few sessions, he began singing a simple ‘Hello Song’ with me at the beginning of the session. As time progressed, he began to answer questions I would ask during a conversation song and eventually asked me questions himself,” Jenkins said.
She also shared a story of a young woman who had multiple developmental disabilities.
“Over the past couple of years, I worked with a young adult with multiple disabilities due to hydrocephaly as an infant and other developmental delays. When I first started working with her, she would barely use her right hand to do anything, did not have a very long attention span and was very nonverbal,” she said.
For this patient, Jenkins underwent multiple treatments. For instance, she had the young woman play various hand-held rhythm instruments using both hands to increase the use of her right one. They also sang songs together, which encouraged the young woman to begin making vocalizations and learn new syllable sounds. Lastly, Jenkins taught her to use a four-button switch to communicate different music choices.
In both of these cases, Jenkins was able to use music to improve the social and physical health of her clients. Several different types of hospitals, rehabilitative facilities, nursing homes and schools employ music therapists to try and help improve the health of their patients as well.
One problem for many hospitals and patients is that insurance companies will rarely help cover the costs of music therapy. Only about 20 percent of music therapists receive third-party reimbursement for their services, according to the AMTA.
“(Music therapy) is very real, but insurance companies often say it isn’t credible, which makes it hard for hospitals to be able to have it for their patients,” Misenhelter said.
The process of becoming a music therapist is difficult as well. Anyone who wants to be a music therapist has to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from an AMTA-approved program. Students must learn counseling, therapy and musical techniques, and they must complete a six-month internship. Proficiency in piano, guitar and voice is necessary as well. In order to become a qualified practitioner, the completion of the board certificate exam is also required.
As trying as it is, Jenkins believes it is worth it.
“Seeing your clients grow and enjoy being a part of music therapy sessions, as well as parents telling you how pleased they are with the services and amazed that their child opens up so much during sessions, will melt your heart and give you the drive to push through all the rough patches,” Jenkins said.
The kind of student that should consider music therapy “would have to be very other-person-centered, care deeply about people and be very strong,” Misenhelter said.
“What they’re going to have to work with on a daily basis can be very trying, and there’s not much positive reinforcement. You have to really invest yourself. There may be gratitude, but you will not very often be applauded the way you would be for performing. The student who wants to do this is a soulful, wonderful human being,” Misenhelter said.