OU School of Music Offers Unique Music Therapy Program

By Lauren Stauffenger via The Athens News

In recent months it has come to America’s attention that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is receiving music therapy treatment for head injuries she suffered in the Jan. 8 shooting spree in Tucson. While this news may have surprised some individuals, it really shouldn’t. Music therapy is quickly becoming a well-established and widely used form of treatment.

According to the American Music Therapy Association’s website, music therapy “is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.”

Ohio University’s School of Music offers one such program.

“I came here to help generate a higher level of music therapists and teach students that the first thing is to be a fine musician,” said Louise Steele, director of OU’s music therapy program. “The better musicians are the better therapists.”

The music therapy graduate program at OU is the only one of its kind in the state, and has been in place since the early 1960s, Steele said.

After graduating from this university program, one becomes a Board Certified Music Therapist (MT-BC), which is defined by the School of Music website as a “skilled musician and therapist who generally serves a member of a team of trained medical or educational professionals, participating in the assessment, treatment and progress evaluation of clients served.”

Clients include people of all ages, from neonatal intensive care units through childhood, adolescence and into adulthood, said Melissa Heffner, a graduate student in OU’s music therapy program.

Music therapy serves those experiencing language, physical or motor delay, any developmental disability or substance-abuse problems as well as those in psychiatric units, hospitals, nursing homes and hospice, said Heffner.

“The one thing that music therapy doesn’t do is completely eradicate a problem,” Steele said.

The goals, according to the Society for the Arts in Health Care’s website, are to “benefit patients by aiding in their physical, mental and emotional recovery, including by relieving anxiety and decreasing their perception of pain.”

Music therapy is mostly about working on non-musical goals, Heffner said.

One patient who really stands out to Steele, who has been working in the field for more than 40 years, is a young man diagnosed with autism. Steele treated this patient from the time he was 2 years old until he reached the age of 20.

“He loved Winnie the Pooh,” Steele recalled. “Eventually, he could sing the entire Winnie the Pooh song. That was the first time his dad heard him give a connected sentence.”

Adapted music instruction is one form of music therapy that is used for cognitive problems. The autistic young man Steele was treating struggled to put together whole sentences, yet by undergoing adapted music instruction, his cognitive abilities greatly increased.

“His favorite thing became singing,” Steele said. “He had a lovely baritone voice.”

Steele adapted the treatment plan to her patient’s needs and formed a group of high-school students that her patient referred to as the “Vipers.” While Steele orchestrated the music, her patient was required to tell each member his/her part in the performance and congratulate them afterwards.

“He was so motivated that he responded so well,” Steele said. “It opened up not only a wider range of interactions but also helped him develop into the arts.”

The mission of the American Music Therapy Association, according to its website, is to “advance public awareness of the benefits of music therapy and increase access to quality music therapy services in a rapidly changing world.”

Some current forms of music therapy treatment include music-assisted relaxation techniques, lyric analysis, preferred music and music life review, but the future of music therapy is headed toward research findings on nerve functions.

Today’s techniques, such as those mentioned above, lend a hand in distracting patients from pain and helping them cope with illnesses. Music life review is common for terminally ill patients, who reflect on various stages in their lives by listening to soothing music. Often patients even make audio recordings for family members and friends.

“Sometimes,” Steele said, “it is easier to sing it than to say it.”

In the words of Steele: “Isn’t that cool?”

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