Music Therapy Relieves O’Bleness Patients

I’m proud to have the opportunity to work with the music therapy students and faculty at Ohio University. The following is from Ohio University’s newspaper, The Post.


Courtney Hessenauer For The Post Friday, November 13, 2009

Yesterday afternoon, 16-year-old Elizabeth, an Alexander High School student staying at O’Bleness Memorial Hospital after her recent appendix surgery, hosted a visitor equipped with a guitar, tambourine and lollipop-shaped drum.

Graduate student Caitlin Nicholas, studying in Ohio University’s music therapy department, pays weekly visits to patients at O’Bleness, giving her the chance to practice therapy techniques utilizing various instruments.

“I often encounter experiences that reiterate why I went into music therapy in the first place,” said Nicholas, a board-certified music therapist who began supervising other OU students at O’Bleness last fall.

During a visit last week, she said, a patient who had rated her depression level at 10 out of 10 initially ranked it at 0 out of 10 after a visit from OU music therapy students.

Music therapy is the use of music to influence people’s emotional, psychosocial and physical health, said Louise Steele, director of OU’s music therapy department.

“Music is embedded all over our brain, whereas language is primarily one side,” Steele said, explaining that music therapy stimulates the entire brain and fully engages patients, strengthening their overall recovery.

The department’s relationship with O’Bleness began about four years ago when President Roderick McDavis challenged OU to forge stronger ties to Athens.

Steele took the president’s challenge as an opportunity to get students out of the classroom, contacting O’Bleness and laying the foundation for the program.

Later that year, hospital administrators were in attendance at a health conference hosted by the College of Osteopathic Medicine, where Steele argued the merits of allowing students to learn music therapy by working directly with patients. Her speech convinced O’Bleness to sign-on to the program.

Music therapy students conducted a study at O’Bleness in the summer of 2007, exploring the effect of music in the hospital’s waiting room on visitor satisfaction. The study concluded that live music in hospital waiting areas can be a low-cost way to lower patient anxiety, according to an OU release.

The music therapy department requires students do hands-on instruction for 10 of 12 quarters, including the work in the department clinic, the Athens Hospice and, eventually, O’Bleness.

Students who go to O’Bleness often sing or use adapted instrumental instruction, Steele said, adding that musical talent is a requirement to study in the program.

“A system we’ve developed is a level system,” Steele said. “First, we try to get in the door and play music to the patients. Then we will engage the brain more physically, and the nurse always tells us what our limits are.”

She added that student groups have access to all units within the hospital and are supervised by someone who is board-certified in music therapy.

“We’ve never had a complaint, only positives,” Steele said. “It’s one of the best relationships with an agency we have had.”

Nicholas said she went into music therapy because of her love for people and music.

“When I heard about music therapy, it just clicked, and it combined the things I am most passionate about,” Nicholas said.

Elizabeth, who requested many of the songs that Nicholas both played and sang, said the music helped relax her despite her uncomfortable surroundings.

“She said it really took her mind off of being in a hospital,” Nicholas said.

5 thoughts to “Music Therapy Relieves O’Bleness Patients”

  1. This is a very intriguing idea. I work with ADHD and Autistic children. More and more studies are revealing that the arts, and in particular, music, are able to have a positive impact in the therapy of ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) children. I personally have not started using this approach in my practice, but it is becoming pretty clear that it has merit. I’ll be looking into it further. Thank you for the information.

  2. You quote Steele saying “Music is embedded all over our brain” which fascinates me. Though I have not done music therapy as such I have noticed that many students show a general improvement in performance and behavior when they start studying an instrument. Personally I think that participating in music – even at a very elementary level – should be encouraged amongst students of all kinds for this reason – not just ADHD, autistic or with emotional problems. Certainly in the UK this is against the trend in education which tends to be increasingly vocationally focused.

  3. Positive music therapy obviously helps people. Sound therapy is well studied, positive emotions helping healing is well documented, so combining this has to have a positive effect.

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