Musicians and fans know the power music plays in one's life. An art form that speaks to soul, music has the ability to connect with people in ways far beyond our understanding. It has the power to heal and repair.
Music therapy is one way music is being used to heal and repair. According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), the earliest known reference of music therapy was listed in a 1789 magazine titled Columbian Magazine in the article "Music Physically Considered". Flash forward to today, there are over 5,000 certified music therapists in the country.
I had the opportunity to interview three music therapists on the specialties they practice in, what they have seen in their experience and what music can do to heal the mind and body. The third installment of this series welcomes Elizabeth La Combe, a music therapist who works with pre-teens through young adults in a mental health capacity.
J: Music Therapy has been utilized for quite some time as an aid in healing, what can you tell me about it from a mental health standpoint?
E: Music is a really powerful tool to heal in regards to health. First, I believe that all humans are musical and second, I think it can be a positive thing as it is accessible to everybody. Music is not threatening at all.
When we're talking about mental health, I've had a lot of experience working in psychiatric wards where people are in-patients and acutely unwell at that point in their life. Music is wonderful, because it is non-threatening. People are more willing to use music than having to talk through their problems.
Music is very safe and I think that's why it works in mental health. If you are a patient who is experiencing a time of poor mental health, music may be one of the only things that is accessible to you.
In my experience, we may work on creating active music through improvising. The person didn't have to use words to express what he/she was feeling. Music provides a great non-verbal way of communicating, which can be very healing.
J: I think one of the things you mentioned there, that I've always felt about music is that it is able to go in a touch the soul on a level that a lot of other arts cannot.
E: I think there is some comfort there, too. I use general music listening as well in my therapy and there can be a lot of comfort in listening to a song that can relate to feeling a certain way. Whether it touches us in a spiritual or scientific way, music brings comfort.
J: What have been your experiences using music to aid in the healing process with patients and the receptiveness of the medical community?
E: Music is such a powerful healer. I've worked in mental health and a number of hospitals. When you're a trained music therapist, we have many ways to connect with a patient. There is a lot of scientific literature out there about it. Music does, in fact, change physiological symptoms.
I've also personally done research like that and witnessed the difference music therapy can do in lowering the heart rate, reducing stress and providing relaxation. Music as a healing tool has been going on a long time and I think the medical community is very receptive. I personally, have not experienced skepticism from any medial professional. In my work as a music therapist in hospitals, I have always been a part of the treatment team.
I think the scientific evidence has opened the medical community up. There is a line between what is considered medical and in other categories. Music therapy has always landed in the other categories, but I think those lines are merging and it is due to the extensive research music therapists have been doing.
I also think it's more receptive as a profession now. There are medical conferences every year about music therapy. But with the receptiveness come another problem and that is funding. Most hospitals would probably love to have a music therapist on their team, but whether or not funding is there to support it is another issue.
J: Many people mistakenly think music therapy is just going into hospitals and playing music to patients, but it's much more than that. Can you explain the complexities of this therapy a little more?
E: There is no doubt that music in and of itself can be extremely therapeutic and healing. There are a lot of musicians who are brilliant at what they do. And, there are a lot of musicians who are volunteering out in the community at hospitals, which what they are doing is wonderful, but there is a big difference between volunteer musicians and what music therapists do.
Personally, I have my Master's in music therapy. In order to get into the program you had to be proficient in several different instruments and voice. I had to go through a lot of counseling courses and psychology courses. The program also did clinical placements. The biggest difference between a volunteer musician and a music therapist is in the framework of music therapy. We are setting goals and objectives. We implement a program that consistently meets those goals and objectives.
J: How and why did you get into music therapy? It's a very specific degree and I was curious as to how you came about doing it.
E: I have a good friend who has a son with autism. I was spending a lot of time with him during which he was non-verbal. I felt like their was someone else in there that no one was tapping in to. I also noticed he really loved music. Now, this was before I became a music therapist, and once I started using music with him there was such a significant change.
He would go from keeping himself isolated to someone who was engaged in the activity. When I would play a song he liked, he would come over and sit on my lap. It was quite amazing to see and I thought there has to be something to this. That's when I decided to go into music therapy.
Music has the power to touch and to assist those in need of connection. It is a communicative force that does not require verbalization, which makes it a safe method to use therapeutically in mental health situations. Whether the affect of music is one of spiritual, scientific or both, it is evident music is engrained within us as human beings and a necessary component to our lives.
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