Music therapy connects participants to music, but its impact goes so much further
By Spencer van Vloten
March is Music Therapy Month, so what better time for Spencer van Vloten to talk with Cindy Dai-Thiessen of Music Heals about the power of music to change lives--no matter the age, background, or ability.
Spencer: Tell us what music therapy is and what Music Heals does
Cindy: Music Heals raises funds and awareness of the healing powers of music. Since 2012, Music Heals Charitable Foundation has funded over $2 Million to provide music therapy services in communities in BC and across Canada.
We increase access to music therapy for clients in children’s hospitals, seniors’ centres, palliative care, AIDS & HIV programs, at-risk youth, habilitation, and bereavement support.
"Music therapy is the skillful use of music to promote, maintain, and restore an individual's physical and mental health"
Music therapy is the skillful use of music to promote, maintain, and restore an individual’s physical and mental health. Music therapists help their clients achieve a number of goals through music, including improvement of communication, academic strengths, attention span, and motor skills. They may also assist with behavioural therapy and pain management.
Spencer: Why does music heal?
Cindy: Music enables a person to reminisce and reconnect with their sense of self. When used therapeutically it further interacts with diverse regions of the brain to guide in promoting healthy emotions and behaviour.
Music therapy increases dopamine and reduces noise, bringing clarity to those who suffer from various forms of physical and psychological pain. Music can break past barriers of age, language, race, culture, sexual orientation, physical ability, and so much more to address the needs of the individual or group. It provides a safe space for holistic healing.
The healing power of music brings people together and gives people from all walks of life a sense of belonging. And the best part is that it is non-invasive and has zero harmful side-effects.
An example of music therapy sessions
Spencer: Who can benefit from music therapy and how long does it usually take to see results?
Cindy: Everyone can benefit from music therapy. Although it most often tends to the needs of those who have physical, emotional, social, or cognitive complexities, even those without can use music to relax, reduce stress, improve mood, or to accompany exercise.
The positive effects of music therapy can be seen almost immediately. Within the first few sessions, music therapy can help infants in neonatal care find rhythm to learn how to feed, evoke communication to non verbal children on the autism spectrum, spark memory in older adults living with dementia, and bring comfort and assurance to those at end of life care.
Spencer: Is there a particular type of music that is most effective or most commonly used for music therapy?
Cindy: There is no one song or one musical experience that will feed each of us for all the various life situations we find ourselves in, and the various moods we feel. People want a quick fix one-pill solution like a pharmaceutical, and although music can be therapeutic in many ways, there is no one-song or one-type of music that fits for all.
All of us will relate to music that we grew up with, what Susan Summers of the Music Therapy Association of BC calls the “soundtrack of our life”. It includes the music our parents, grandparents, and teachers taught us and played or sang around us, plus that which we learned in school, along with the music that has the most emotional connection is that from our teen and early 20’s years.
"All of us will relate to music that we grew up with...the soundtrack of our life"
Culturally, spiritually, religiously each of us has types of music and genres that we gravitate to. We each have songs that remind us of important and critical times in our life, and also where there has been pain or challenge.
Music therapists are trained to assess their clients, knowing what clients have in their background, but they also have training to provide opportunities for improvisation, song writing, lyric analysis, learning musical instruments, experiencing success, joy, enjoyment or other emotions like sadness or frustration.
It’s all about the client learning about themselves, learning ways to support themselves, and participating in creativity.
People of all ages can benefit from music therapy
Spencer: Is there funding available for families who may struggle to afford music therapy?
Cindy: Despite ample evidence of the benefits of music therapy, by and large it is not covered by health care or extended health care plans in Canada.
At times, WorkSafeBC and ICBC have funded music therapy for individuals, but it is not a given. Therefore music therapists are directly funded by organizations such as Music Heals. Other sources of funding include hospital foundations, grants, special interest groups, individual donors, fundraising efforts, as well as through operational funding from health authorities, hospitals and community agencies.
The Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists of BC is waiting for the Ministry of Health to declare counselling therapy as a health profession, which is the first step towards regulation. Once they are regulated under the Health Professions Act, they can begin the process to ensure music therapists and those in the counselling professions are funded properly under extended health plans.
For music therapists, it is hoped that will give us legitimacy for government funding and programs as well as with the public.
Spencer: If someone can’t afford music therapy, are there ways to use music at home that provide a similar benefit?
Cindy: If someone can’t afford therapy services, then they have YouTube and Spotify and other music platforms which they can find songs, artists, genres that they connect with. Sometimes, there are community music therapy groups and programs offered, depending on the clientele and their geographic location. Being in a group makes it more affordable.
Music can heal in many different ways
Spencer: Is there a success story that stands out for you?
Cindy: A recent one that comes to mind is that of a participant in the music therapy program at Ridge Meadows Association for Community Living in Maple Ridge, BC:
“I am learning to play the guitar with [Music Therapist] Birgit. I am learning to understand the structure of music such as notes, scales, keys, harmony and chords. I need this knowledge because I am blind and have to feel my way along the fretboard. Initially I refused music therapy at my group home because it would be so weird having our sessions at home.
But I got inspired to buy myself a guitar and requested music therapy so I could learn and play. When the pandemic forced us to stay home, I felt stuck at home with nothing to do. I was so bored. Music helps me express myself and get out my frustrations. I work really hard but I am also patient with myself. I have been through some hardships but music has been a constant in my life”.
Spencer: How can people support Music Heals?
Cindy: Making a donation to Music Heals helps us continue to raise awareness and funds for the healing power of music in Canada. Or put on a fundraiser of your own! For other unique ways you can support our cause, visit our website www.musicheals.ca to learn more.
Be sure to follow us across all social media channels @musicheals_ca!
March is also Music Therapy Awareness month. We want to hear how music has changed your life.
Click here to tell your story: https://musicheals.ca/megaphone
Spencer van Vloten is the editor of BC Disability. To get in touch, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org!