It’s always exciting for us to welcome new therapists to our team at Metro.
We recently had the immense pleasure of experiencing that excitement twofold, as both Justin and Amy joined our ranks! We’ll be getting to know Amy a little more on this blog soon, so stay tuned.
This week, let’s talk about Justin Sant! After spending many years in New York City, working with incarcerated teens, adults & children with intellectual and developmental delays, and patients in detox & acute psychiatric settings – not to mention his time at the Manhattan VA, where he combined guitar lessons and psychotherapy to help Veterans work through various mental health struggles, including PTSD – Justin is now growing accustomed to our Georgian, southern ways (he recently texted us the word “y’all.” We were enthused.) He’s an amazing therapist, and he’s already hit the ground running with a new program for Veterans in Atlanta!
Justin, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure! I’m a guitar player from the northeast. My mother is from Ireland, and my father is from Trinidad; I was born in the Bronx. So I grew up with all sorts of music – Irish Folk, Island Reggae Calypso, and I discovered Punk Rock. Went to Berklee College of Music for undergrad, and I discovered Music Therapy from a singer in a band who was studying it as her major. She invited me to tag along for her practicum at a juvenile prison, where I got to experience Music Therapy in action for the first time while working with incarcerated teens. I loved it so much that after I moved back to NYC, I kept taking the bus back to weekly to Boston to assist my friend with her prison practicum. I started looking for Music Therapy volunteer opportunities in New York, which led to me being hired as a music teacher at a facility for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. After a few years I met famed Music Therapist Benedikte Scheiby. For a while, I was her assistant at the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, which Oliver Sacks was involved with. Then I went to NYU for a graduate degree in Music Therapy where I was gung-ho to work with Veterans. I spent two years doing Music Therapy at the Manhattan VA until my wife’s job led to us moving to Atlanta. When I saw that Metro Music Therapy partnered with the Wounded Warrior Project, I knew I wanted to work there!
Why do you enjoy working with veterans?
I have a lot of friends who served and I also have some real life experience with trauma, so there’s a personal connection there too. Music has always been healing for me. I’m a firm believer that trauma is somatic – stored in the body. You can’t intellectualize yourself out of a panic attack, but music can break through the intellectual / behavioral stuff.
Let’s talk a bit about our new Music Therapy program at the VEO in Atlanta.
First of all, what is the VEO?
The VEO is the “Veterans Empowerment Organization.” It’s a facility that serves homeless Veterans. It’s really cool – it’s a full campus, with apartments and a mess hall. It really feels like a military base. Might even feel like home to these guys for that reason. (So far, all the Veterans I’ve worked with there have been male.)
How does Music Therapy fit in at the VEO, and how did this program start?
So, I’ve worked with Veterans for 4 years, and in that time, I’ve put together song packets – songs chosen by Veterans themselves. These songs are a great starting point for verbal processing. They provide a context in which the Veterans can deal with some pretty traumatic issues, on the flip-side some of the chosen songs can bring back a lot of good memories. At the VEO, I met with Sahar Khundmiri (she’s the Director of Wellness Services & Partnerships) and brought a bunch of instruments. She invited me to the mess hall, and we had a session that very day! I had a brought along my guitar as well as various percussion instruments and a big xylophone . The Veterans jumped right in and began to musically improvise and chose songs. Afterwards, Sahar looked at me and said, “We need to do this every week.”
And what does a typical group session look like?
We usually start out with musical improvisation. People go through the song packets – we sing along, and it stirs up discussion. The Veterans actually want to start writing a song about the VEO, and how they feel about it. We recently got the go ahead to start a guitar group, which is something I‘ve been pushing for as I’ve got to witness first hand how much Veterans got out of one that I started at the Manhattan VA!
How have you seen Veterans benefit from Music Therapy?
It provides a really fantastic community experience. The Veterans can help each other the most. When a conversation gets going in a Music Therapy session, there’s sort of a “me too!” aspect that helps them not feel alone. And then, one of my favorite things is that look on someone’s face when they get a chance to express themselves musically – even if, at the start, they’re saying, “I don’t know, I’ve never played before.” Their face just lights up.
What is one thing you’ve learned about people, relationships, and Music Therapy through working with Veterans?
The importance of community! That we’re not alone. To get to be a part of someone else’s life… and them allowing you to be a part – it’s a sacred thing. It’s an honor to be there to experience them expressing themselves through music, sometimes for the first time.
Thanks so much, Justin. We couldn’t be more thrilled to have you on board with us at Metro, and the work you’re doing with Veterans is amazing!