PASSION – My passion to serve – part 5 of 5

In the first 3 posts for this series I talked about the importance of passion, for music, for music therapy and for the profession. In the last post, I talked about my love for singing and stated that my father wanted me to do something “more substantial” with my life.

After my dad’s untimely death, during my first year at community college, I quit school and got a job as a waitress and sang in a rock band. I loved singing in the band, but we were never very good or very successful and after a while we just gave up and got “real” jobs. My mother continued to encourage me, sometimes very loudly, to get a college degree and make a path for myself, so I took business classes part time while still working full time until my older daughter was born. Then after many complications of pregnancy followed by post-partum depression I started seeing a very wise counselor. He helped me to examine the things that I was doing in my life and how they were affecting my future. I went back to school full time as a business major but I was still miserable because life without music looked pretty empty.

Debi-1There was a music history class for non-music majors and I took it for fun one semester, and after class one day, I was talking to the professor and she asked me why I wasn’t a music major. I told her that I didn’t think I was good enough, that I really wasn’t an opera singer and had a lot of excuses. She encouraged me to check out the music education program and I promised that I would think about it. So that afternoon I went to the main office of the music building at ASU and asked for the checklist of requirements for the music education degree program. The clerk was very helpful, but gave me the wrong list, the one she gave me was for music therapy, and she apologized, gave me the music education one and wanted to take the music therapy checklist back, but I kept it. Years before, I had seen a music therapy session in a group home for developmentally delayed adults but never really gave it a second thought until that moment.

During my early teen years I had done a lot of volunteer events for people with special needs and I had worked as a Candy Striper in a nursing home. So when I compared the two programs, I decided that music therapy just might be what I was looking for. My passing the audition was another miracle and within two weeks of changing my major I knew I had found the right path for me.

I feel very fortunate that Arizona State University has an excellent music therapy program and I found it quite by accident, which is why I believe that passion is so important, because I was a “rock star wannabe” with very little formal musical education and had to learn most of my musicianship in a very short amount of time, and while raising my young children. Without passion, I wouldn’t have stuck with it and become the music therapist that I am.

In the 17 years since earning my MT-BC, my passion for serving others through this extremely powerful medium of music therapy has continued to grow. I have had the pleasure and privilege of serving a wide variety of people and I have witnessed children singing for the first time and elders with dementia that can’t remember their own name but can remember entire songs.

The biggest blessing of being a music therapist was after my mother had a series of severe strokes. She was in the hospital for 4 months and the doctors told me she would never walk or talk again. After her hospital stay, I brought her to live with me for 6 weeks. I knew her musical preferences and her love of dance and used this to help in therapy each and every day. She was able to walk and talk again although never to her previous level. But I was blessed to have five more years with her. After she passed away, I used music therapy to help me with the loss by returning to ASU for my Master’s degree in music therapy.

In my first post of this series, I posed the question “What makes some music therapists successful while others are struggling to get enough income to live on?” In order to be a successful music therapist, you must have passion for music, and passion for music therapy. You have to be so determined to stay on the path and that you don’t give up, regardless of the road blocks put in your way. I came upon this profession quite by accident, but I am thankful for each and every opportunity I have to help enrich other’s lives through the powerful medium of music therapy.

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PASSION – For the Music Therapy Profession – Part 3 of 5

In my last two blog posts, I talked about the importance of passion as a musician and as a music therapist. (Read those posts here). There is a little bit of difference being a professional music therapist and having passion for the profession of music therapy. As a working MT-BC you can choose to focus on your relationship with your clients, your musicianship and your job, but as I have learned over the years, one of the few constants in life is change. So maybe you are tired of working for someone else and you decide to start your own private practice as a music therapist.

Networking with other professionals

Networking with other professionals

Add all of the skills listed in the last two posts and then, add in all of the responsibilities and skills needed to run a business. You will need to learn how to write a business plan, how to market your business so that you can get work and you will need to account for all of the earnings that come in. You may need to develop policies and procedures to have employees or sub-contractors.

In this day and age it is difficult to have a business if you aren’t online. At the least you need to be able to send and receive emails. It also makes sense to have a website, which, if you don’t have the investment to hire a website designer or marketing experts, you will need to learn to do this yourself. And if you don’t want your website to be static, then you will need to be finding content and updating your site regularly. You can do this through blogging and/or posting pictures, videos and news stories about music therapy. This is time consuming but at least there is a lot of material to choose from on the internet.

If you are the only music therapist in your area, then you will need to be networking and educating other professionals in related disciplines so that they can refer clients to you. If you are one of many music therapists in your area, people in other professions may already know what music therapy is and the outcomes, so then the task becomes setting your practice apart from the others, and at the same time, adhering to the CBMT code of ethics so that you are not taking business away from the other MT’s in your area.

The main thing about being a music therapy business owner is to keep on going and not give up. Many business advisors say that it takes at least two years of hard work before you start seeing the results and your business starts to thrive. This is why passion for the profession is so important to be a successful music therapy business owner.

Visit the blog next week and read about my music therapy journey.

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Music Therapy with Tibetan Singing Bowls

jane-with-bowlA few weeks ago I was at my favorite grocery store and ran into a friend and colleague. Jane Shallberg, M.Ed, MT-BC is the director of Arizona Sound and Music Therapy Institute. If you have read my previous posts, then you have probably figured out that, while I do work with adults, my primary experience and expertise has been in special education. Jane’s music therapy practice is so different from mine. She does vibration therapy with Tibetan singing bowls and she invited me to a session. During my graduate work I took a course on Javanese Gamalon and I loved playing the big gongs so I thought I knew more about vibrational healing than I really did.

The clinic space was set much like a massage studio with a table in the middle, but around the table were beautiful big metal bowls of varying sizes. Jane explained that this healing practice has been used for more than 2500 years and helps to reduce anxiety and manage stress, reduce depression, lessening agitation, pain reduction, increasing energy, heightening awareness and promoting an overall sense of well-being. She told me that she has been working with mental health, cancer, and hospice patients.

Before she started we discussed some of my wellness goals and set an intention to release the tension in my neck and shoulders and relax my voice. I first lay on my stomach on the massage table and Jane began striking the bowls around me. To say that I was filled with sound would be an understatement. I could feel the vibrations within and throughout my body. My muscles relaxed and it seemed like every part of me was vibrating along with the amazingly beautiful sound. She then took a large bowl she called the “G” bowl because it is for the chakra related to the voice; she placed the bowl between my shoulder blades and struck it. As she moved the bowl around, I told her when I had a spot that was tense, there was such a large transfer of energy that the bowl became warm.

I turned over so that I was lying on my back, and Jane continued to strike the bowls around me. As I closed my eyes and focused on breathing, she then put the same “G” Jane S tibetan bowlsbowl on my abdomen. I felt vibrations all the way through to my back and down my arms and legs and became so relaxed that my mind was free and I was able to imagine a Kaleidoscope of pattern and color.

Before I knew it the session was over and for the first time in a very long time, I was completely relaxed and even pain free for a while. I did experience an opening of my chest and my voice is sounding much more relaxed. I will be scheduling more sessions and I highly recommend this type of music therapy for everyone, whether you are dealing with an illness, pain, or just anxiety of everyday life.

Have you ever tried alternative healing therapies? Please leave your comments below.

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Vocational and Wellness Group for Teens

Egg shaker gameA few weeks ago, I wrote about the ways that music therapy can address vocational skills, you can read that post here, the clients that I was referring to in that article had diagnoses such as developmental delays, autism and Cerebral Palsy and they attend day programs. But this week I had the opportunity to provide a music therapy program for a completely different type of vocational training program.

DK Advocates  has programs in Phoenix and Tucson and they offer training for call centers, computer skills, food service, retail and more. Their clients are people who may need to change careers due to an injury or illness. There was also a group of teens that had been doing a summer work program and I did a drum group in honor of their completion of the program.

Music therapy is still an effective modality for these clients, but the goals are different, the session structure is different and the focus is different as well. These clients didn’t need any help to share and trade instruments and most could keep a steady beat. So when doing this group, I gave each client the opportunity to lead a rhythm pattern and have a solo to provide opportunities to practice leadership of the crescendo

We also discussed the many ways that being involved in the music making is good for your brain and your body and the importance of personal self-care. Then the discussion turned to the great value of always learning new things and to find things to be passionate about. The participants asked very interesting questions such as ways to use music  while studying and while exercising.

All in all it was so much fun for me to work in a different program and meet new people. And I hope that the teens learned a little bit about wellness and about different types of careers, and I hope that my new friend, Mario, who plays bass and drums and is planning to major in psychology in college, will investigate a career in music therapy.

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This Summer I Took My Clients On A World Wide Vacation

So I didn’t hire a car, plane, boat or train to transport us to far off places but we did pretendBecome actively involved in the music making!

The topic of summer vacation is pretty universal, most of us have schedule changes to accommodate for vacations and the ending of one school year and the start of another.

I like to start my groups with some sort of movement and Independence Day is the perfect reason to use patriotic songs as we wave flags and march to the beat. I then hand out instruments and we sing and play American folk songs. This is all very fun and the outcomes are fairly predictable and I use the same format with all of the groups (ages 3 years up to 94 years). But then, after we have gotten all of our neurons firing and our bodies are releasing all of the “feel good” hormones it is time to start our cognitive exercises.

As a college student I watched many videos of music therapy in action. It was the “Nordoff-Robbins” method that stuck me with the realization that when improvisation is done correctly, everyone can have a voice. So I incorporate improvisation into my sessions whenever possible. One of my favorite interventions is to use the blues song “Kansas City” written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller and take my clients “on vacation”. (enjoy the video below by Muddy Waters) The way I do this is to sing the original (slightly edited) first verse and then I go around the room and ask each individual the question “If you could go anywhere for your vacation, where would you go?”  When I ask kids I get answers like “Disneyland, Sea World and camping”. We then put the answer into the song.  But now that I work with adults in memory care and skilled nursing the answers are much broader and have led to some great discussions about their travels and experiences. Millie is a resident on a memory care unit and usually unable to tell me her name. But this past week, when I asked Millie where she would like to go, she got the most beautiful expression on her face and said “Jerusalem”. It is those in the moment experiences that illustrate the power of music.

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Addressing Vocational Skills in Music Therapy Groups

Each week I work with a variety of people, from very young children in preschool to older adults in memory care and skilled nursing facilities. One of my adult groups has individuals from age 22 Music Therapy Supports Social Interractionand up with the oldest member in her late 50’s. They have all been diagnosed with a variety of developmental delays such as Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and Autism. The program director told me a few weeks ago that he wanted programs that had more vocational skill development.

Now many of these individuals can and do get jobs in the community, they can bag groceries, sweep floors, wipe tables, and many other important tasks where they are interacting with customers. So am I going to write songs about sweeping floors so they can practice those skills during our music therapy groups?  Probably not because it’s not the best use of my skills and resources.

But let’s look at some other basic skills necessary to have a job in a community setting. First, a person needs to have basic social skills such as making eye contact with others, speaking to other employees and customers, and cooperation and teamwork. All of these skills are addressed multiple times in each music therapy group. During the “hello song” I greet each person individually and make eye contact and ask how they are doing today. Basic manners are essential to any workplace.

Other important vocational skills are making choices, taking turns, and sharing. These are also addressed during the music therapy group. I will often give a participant the opportunity to choose the next song or activity, I give them a choice such as “Do you want “Blue Suede Shoes” or “Hound Dog?” and they tell me which one they want. Often times another group member will want the song that wasn’t chosen and they are told to be patient, that we will do this one first and then the next one. I also tell participants to trade instruments between songs. This supports turn-taking, sharing, trading, and cooperation. As we are making music together we become a team working together and having fun while we are doing so. Music therapy can and should be an ongoing part of vocational training programs.  Call Mind-Full Music Therapy Services, LLC today to schedule or pass this blog on to a vocation training center or sheltered workshop that you think would be interested.

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Physiological and Neurological Changes: the Most Important Reason for Weekly Music Therapy Sessions

neurology, autism, brain injury, Alzheimer's

Being involved in music making excites more of the brain than any other activity. Photo courtesy of NIH

The research is published and the word is out. Participation in music making interventions improves physiological functions such as regulation of heart rate and respiration and the release of endorphins into the system. We also know that participation in the music making process supports neurological functioning throughout the brain. Music therapists have specialized training in getting people involved in the music making, we are trained to work with a wide variety of special needs individuals and groups and can meet individual goals and objectives for each person in a group setting so that the progress for each person is maximized.

Researchers in Japan published a 2 year study of the effects of music therapy on elderly patients with moderate to severe dementia. They measured blood pressure rates of patients receiving music therapy services and compared them to a control group and determined that both those patients with low blood pressure and those patients with high blood pressure reached normal levels over time while the control group  blood pressure levels were not affected (Takahashi, Matsushita Music Ther (2006) 43 (4): 317-333 doi:10.1093/jmt/43.4.317)

Another study published on ScienceDaily reports that brain imaging shows that people with musical training have enhanced executive brain functions. “Executive functions are the high-level cognitive processes that enable people to quickly process and retain information, regulate their behaviors, make good choices, solve problems, plan and adjust to changing mental demands.”

In addition, The National Autism Center (NAC, 2009) recognized music therapy as an “emerging practice” classification, meaning that current research is showing significant improvements for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Music therapy is a research and evidenced base profession and Board-Certified Music Therapists (MT-BC) are held to high standards of practice so that our clients reach maximum potential. In order to truly provide the best possible outcomes for patients/clients/students we need to have the time to work with them, access to records and time to provide appropriate documentation for their files.  Music therapy has benefits in so many different settings with so many different people.  Sign up for your weekly sessions with Mind-Full Music Therapy Services, available throughout the Phoenix, AZ area!

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Consistency: The Second Reason Weekly Music Therapy Sessions Are Important

In my last post, I stated that having weekly music therapy sessions supports social skill development and retention (read that post here).

Group drumming supports neurological and physiological growthThe second reason that I feel weekly music therapy sessions are important is Consistency. Having sessions every week allows participants to understand the routine, they enjoy attending and look forward to the groups. Consider the case of Alan, a 15 year old boy diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Most days Alan doesn’t like to get up and get ready for school in the morning, but on Wednesday, he knows the music therapist is coming and his mom reports that this is the only day of the week that he gets ready for school independently.  Andrew is a 17 year old student that participates in music therapy at his after-school program. His mother shared that every Tuesday morning he reminds her that he has music therapy and doesn’t want her to pick him up early. Then there is my friend Walter, who awaits my arrival in the day room of his Skilled Nursing Facility every Monday so he can request his favorite songs.  Music therapy is important to the participants and having a consistent schedule builds confidence and trust and gives them a way to be proactive about their healthy lifestyle habits.

In addition to motivation there is another benefit of consistent weekly music therapy sessions. Every session that I do is structured to meet goals and objectives of each individual, even in the group setting. Within the structure are rules of behavior, such as how to hold an instrument and play it appropriately, how to answer questions and interact with the therapist and other participants. When I ask children to do something, I am communicating using words and music, and I am also communicating visually by using gestures, sign language, pictures calendarand facial expressions which improve comprehension. The participants remember the structure more easily and those social skills transfer to other areas of daily life when the sessions are held weekly.

In the next post I will address what I believe may be the strongest reason to provide music therapy sessions at least once per week and that is the physiological and neurological changes that happen in the body when participating in music therapy.

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Social Skill Development and Retention: The First Reason Weekly Music Therapy Sessions are Important

A recent survey of music therapists reported that the majority of therapists see clients in weekly 50min sessions, some in groups and some individual sessions, in order to maximize treatment goals and objectives (Kern, P, et al., Journal of Music Therapy, 50(4), 2013, 274–303). The survey didn’t include why music therapists chose to treat clients weekly as opposed to once or twice per month. But I can tell you three reasons why I believe weekly sessions are important. They are; Social skill development and retention, consistency, and physiological and neurological changes.

calendarThe first issue to examine is Social Skills Development and Retention – One of the primary ways that music therapists get people to interact with the music is to create a trusting environment. This is important whether or not your client is a young child with developmental delays or and older adult recovering from stroke or anything in between. And this is also necessary whether it is an individual or a group setting. As a therapist I provide opportunities for clients to get involved in the music making. I am inviting them to play an instrument they may have never played before, and to sing and move in ways that may not be easy. In order for me to engage them, I need to provide a safe, friendly and motivating opportunity for that person to succeed. In order to build the level of trust, sessions must happen often enough that the client can remember the therapist, or at least the comfortable environment created by the therapist. When working with dementia patients this becomes a crucial element to support their functioning level, skill retention, and provide more opportunities for interaction. The patients in my memory care groups don’t remember my name, or what I do, but they do remember that they like me.Become actively involved in the music making!

Group sessions support social skill development and participants engage with other group members in meaningful and appropriate ways during the music making process. Each individual is encouraged to make choices such as what instrument to play or what song to sing. They are encouraged to participate in discussions and to work cooperatively in the music making. The more these skills are practiced the better the carry over into other areas of daily life.  ScienceDaily cited research from the Pertanika Journal that stated that weekly music therapy sessions can have a positive effect on behavior in children with autism.

In the next post I will explain the importance of consistency of weekly sessions.


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Music Therapy Saves Money On Health Care Costs

So you just read the headline and clicked on this blog post, all the while you may be thinking to yourself, “Oh come on, how can a service that I have to pay for out of my already stretched thin budget really save my facility money?”

First of all let me say that YES, You will have to pay for music therapy services, BUT keep on reading and I will elaborate on how it will save you money.

Evidence-Based Research with Proven Results –Music therapy is a scientifically based practice. Music therapist’s set goals for each individual or group and we document progress toward those goals. We conduct research and publish the results in our professional journals and those of related disciplines.So if you are the director of a nursing home or rehabilitation facility, these are outcomes that are experienced by a large majority of clients – even those individuals that don’t respond well to other types of interventions.

Decreases anxiety and stress¯¯ Reduces anxiety and stress – Music therapists address these goals in the group setting by using calming music and teaching clients breathing and imagery techniques that they can use outside of the music therapy session.Dancing encourages physical movement and releases endorphins while at the same time reducing cortisol levels and is a positive wellness technique.

¯¯ Improves mood and emotional states – Patients are encouraged to express their emotions through music in the group or individual session. We use techniques such as lyric analysis, group songwriting and improvisation to help the client identify their feeling and the reasons behind them and then provide opportunities to express those feelings through the music.

¯¯ Increases patient participation in treatment Music is fun and motivating but many individuals may feel self-conscious about participating. Music therapists have specific training to help patients to feel comfortable and to participate at whatever level they are able. By explaining to patients what we are doing and why it is important, we enable the patient to then have some ownership over their treatment program, which carries over to other treatment modalities.

¯¯ Reduces need for pain medication –The American Psychological Association published a summary of research about music therapy and stated that the researchers found that patients that engaged in music therapy had increased levels of the antibody Immunoglobulin A, which is known to kill cancer cells. They also found reduced levels of cortisol, the stress hormone and increased endorphin levels. Other studies cited that music therapy helped regulate breathing and heart rate for patients from infants in the NICU to adults and elderly in intensive care, cancer treatments and rehabilitation. Patients reported less pain and also had reduced need for pain medication. Read the full article here .

¯Reduces length of Stay-The National Institute of Health (NIH) published a study in 2011 that determined that patients who participated in music therapy had less depression and shorter

Music Therapy is an excellent marketing tool.

Music Therapy is an excellent marketing tool.

lengths of stay than patients that did not receive this service. Read that article here. In addition, a review of music therapy in the Southern Medical Journal was published in 2012 which stated that Patients in intensive care were less anxious before surgical procedures and recovered more quickly and satisfactorily after surgery. They also required less sedation and reported better satisfaction with their hospitalization click here to read that article.

¯Music Therapy as a Marketing Tool-Music therapy has been receiving a lot of media attention and patients are more aware of the benefits of music therapy as they are shopping for services. In 2002 Demmer and Sauer published documentation that supported the fact that patients had higher satisfaction levels for facilities that offered music therapy services. Read an excerpt of “Survey of Nurses’ Attitudes and Perceptions Toward Music Therapy in the Hospital Setting” By Miriam G. Hillmer, 2003

2013 logo (219x106)Call Alison Bowers, MM, MT-BC, at 480-296-9842 to schedule your consultation today!

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