Music Moves

Perspectives & Insights from a Local Music Therapist

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There’s been a lot going on in the schools I serve lately – we’re hurtling towards the end of the academic year at the speed of light, it seems, and my kids at the ND School for the Blind and the ND School for the Deaf can’t seem to wait for summer to arrive!  It’s at times like these that my job focus starts to shift somewhat from the cognitive to the behavioral and emotional needs of my clients: change is coming, and that can be hard for anyone, with or without a disability.  So, each session begins with recapping how many sessions we have until there’s “No more Music Therapy” until next year.  “Three sessions left…two sessions left…one session left…See you next year!”

This, of course, is not the case for my residential clients.  On my caseload currently are 3 placements where I see clients only in their homes, not at school or anywhere else in the community.  These individuals are mostly adults with developmental disabilities, though one of my placements is an adolescent treatment facility where the clients live and go to school in the same building.  My role at those kinds of placements continues year round, so my focus is different than the schools I see, or places where young children are being prepared for school.  Where my school placements are focusing on academic concepts like colors, numbers, and letters, my residential facilities are geared more towards occupational skills that you use for daily life, like planning and sequencing, establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships, and dealing with loss and other emotional disturbances.  When I come into my clients homes in environments like those I serve, I bring drums and my Ipad mostly, sometimes my guitar.  We spend some time listening to other music and talking about what it means (or could mean, some songs are more abstract than others – makes for good discussion!) or we just talk about what we like about it.  “Strengthening Emotional Vocabulary” is actually a goal at one of my placements – just learning new words for how to describe something is a valuable skill so you can learn how to speak appropriately and succinctly.  After we do a bit of listening, we engage in playing activities that require teamwork, like passing an instrument, or something more abstract like passing a beat (“you play, then I play” type of stuff).  It’s a lot like the community drum circles I lead – music making for stress relief and recreation.  We’ve talked here before about the importance of self-care.  Unstable mental health can so quickly become unstable physical health, and some of us need more support than others to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves!  That’s what I see as my primary role at the residential facilities I serve: a guide to self-care for my clients.

Some of the clients I see in their homes are so medically fragile that it may not seem like they’re doing much “caring” for themselves.  I’ve occasionally had people ask me where the “making” of music is happening with someone who, physically or otherwise, is incapable of grasping an instrument or making a sound. “Quality of Life” is a term you hear a lot used in many medical settings, and it’s a term I use heavily when I’m documenting sessions with my clients who have Severe Disabilities.  To me, someone who has a good Quality of Life is able to live as independently as their abilities allow them, and able to connect and share in day to day activities with people they care about and who care about them.   Sure, they may not strum the guitar without assistance or sing the words to every song with me, but when you commit yourself to getting to know someone through frequent time spent together, you notice the little ways they tell you what they want – a blink, a change in their breathing pattern, even an increase in salivation can mean “I’m paying attention, and I want more!”  – and for me, being able to help someone interact with another person on whatever  level works for them is not only magical, but meaningful and crucial to them having the best Quality of Life that they can.  I welcome the experience of working with an individual for whom I might have to look a little deeper for clues into what they like and don’t like – it’s well worth the effort to get to know another human being on this earth!

Next week we wrap up this little series with a look at Music Therapy with Community Centers, specifically my work with the LISTEN Drop-In Center and their free Family Music Group, which I’m off to right now!  Then I’m rehearsing with the ladies of the Lovely Dozen and 12 Houses Bellydance for our stage show this weekend – sure to be a rockin’ end to our first full week in May!  Before you know it, Summer will be here!


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2 Responses to “Defining Music Therapy… in Residential Facilities”

  1. JoAnn Jordan says:

    Your definition of quality of life is spot on in my book. As always, thank you for sharing your experiences with us!

    • Thanks Joann! The other day I had a new observer in one of my home sessions who noted they’d never seen the client I was working with get excited about anything, but seeing them during music, it was like seeing a completely different person. Those types of experiences validate my Quality of Life definition every day. Glad to hear it resonated with you too!