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Dungeons & Dragons & Music Therapy Advocacy

Did you know that March is Music Therapy Awareness Month?
Cool stuff!
Did you know that the idea of “advocating for my profession” makes me super duper uncomfortable?

Well, it does. And here we are.

March. Music Therapy Awareness Month.
Guess I should, like, advocate?

I mean, okay, I know it’s important!
There’s a lot of misinformation about Music Therapy out there, and it’s in the best interest of our current and future Clients – not to mention our brothers and sisters in therapeutic arms – that the general public is made aware of what exactly Music Therapy is, and what it isn’t. Music Therapy is an evidence-based (founded in research) practice, carried out by collegiate-program-educated, board-certified – and (depending on the State) licensed – health professionals, who are called “therapists” for a reason. Namely, that they are, in fact, trained therapists.
We know this, but a lot of people don’t yet. And that’s okay!
We’re learning and spreading awareness together.

I think what makes me hesitate when it comes to advocacy is that I never want to come across as confrontational, defensive, or – Heaven forbid – hostile. I don’t want to be throwing immediate correction in the face of some poor bystander whose only crime was uttering the words, “musical therapy.” And my people-pleasing self would rather let someone continue in misunderstanding than step on toes and “rock the boat,” as it were. I go to the extreme in thinking that advocacy is automatically aggressive in nature. (It’s not.)

If you’re a Music Therapist, maybe you struggle in the same way.

Or maybe you’re one of those gung-ho, shoot from the hip, neon signs and billboards advocators. If so, more power to you!

For the rest of us,
I hope this blog will be an encouragement.
There really is a positive, affirming way to spread awareness and excitement about Music Therapy.
And for me, a good method was put into words by a friend while playing “Dungeons & Dragons.” (Yes, I am a nerd, and I am proud.)

Us fighting Music Therapy misconceptions.

My friend, who was the “Dungeon Master” – the head honcho, if you will – said that, in a game of role playing and improvisation, everyone brings something new and interesting to the story. So his job as facilitator is to have an attitude of “Yes And,” rather than one of “No But.” In other words, agreeing – if possible – with what is brought to the table and helping the player make the most of it – without derailing the game. Then contributing something new to help create the best experience for the players.

In my head, I’ve been afraid of “No But” advocacy. (And rightly so.)

  • “No, Music Therapy is not lying on a couch and listening to smooth jazz for an hour to relax. Why would you think that?”
  • “No, I don’t just teach my Clients how to play instruments. Then I’d be a Music Teacher, obviously.”
  • “These plebeians have no clue what it is I do, and therefore I must educate them.”

Feels rude just to write these kinds of responses here.
So I’ve avoided advocacy altogether.

The truth is, most people I talk to about my job have a genuine curiosity. Their questions and initial thoughts about what sessions could look like are valid!“Yes And” advocacy acknowledges the validity of these initial thoughts while contributing new, expanded knowledge on the subject.

  • “Yes, music is so powerful as a tool to help ease anxiety and shift mood states! And actually, did you know that research shows it can be even more effective to use Client preferred music than just ‘easy listening’?”
  • “You’re right! Learning instruments is a great way to practice motor skills, increase breath support, improve cognitive function – that really touches on a lot of the non-musical goals we might be addressing with a Client! The main difference is that the end goal for our Therapy sessions are those non-musical objectives, whereas a music lesson focuses primarily on the knowledge and ability to play the instrument itself.”
  • “These folks have a good head-start in understanding Music Therapy. Let me help them learn even more about it.”

Now that’s positive and affirming, and educational!

There are certainly times when a person may be convinced of something factually inaccurate regarding Music Therapy. And there are times when people might be spreading misinformation or attempting to advertise themselves as “Music Therapists” without any training or certification. In these moments, correction is necessary. “No” is not a bad word. But for those genuinely interested folks who just want to understand, an attitude of “Yes And” can make Music Therapy advocacy an enriching experience for everyone involved.

Thank you, Dungeons & Dragons, for helping me to see advocacy in a new, positive light.

– Written by Kevin Middlebrooks, LPMT, MT-BC, NMT

Who Even Keeps Resolutions, Anyway? S.M.A.R.T. Goals Are Better

It’s hard to believe that we’re already mid-way through February of 2019!
New Year’s Eve doesn’t seem so long ago. The promise of a new year, a fresh start, exciting possibilities… it’s more than enough to get the old motivational engine revved and roaring! Plans form, goals are etched in stone, and we feel certain that this year – really, though, this year! – we’ll stick to that New Year’s Resolution. We will not waver!

Alright so, show of hands:
Now that the excitement of the new year has begun to wane, how many of us are actually keeping up with those resolutions?

If your hand is raised, way to go! Keep it up!
[Bonus points if you literally raised your hand just now.]
If not, don’t beat yourself up. You’re in good company!

This blog is certainly not intended to make anyone feel bad about themselves.
If it were, what kind of a weird Music Therapy practice would we be?
This blog is rather an attempt to offer a – potentially – more effective method for those of you, like myself, who have a hard time maintaining those lofty resolutions.
I mean, who even keeps resolutions anyway?
[Ahem… Y’all just keep doing you, hand-raisers. You’re awesome.]
Instead, try S.M.A.R.T. Goals!

Yes, S.M.A.R.T. Goals – the very same type of goals that we like to set with our amazing Clients!
You may have heard this acronym before, but in case you haven’t, let’s review what it means, and look over some examples.

S – Specific
S.M.A.R.T. goals are specific. They can be explained in detail.
“I will exercise more.” Sounds a bit vague, huh?
How about… “I will go running for at least 30 minutes, two times a week.”
That’s getting specific!
“Client will improve articulation.” In what way?
How about… “Client will practice bilabial consonant sounds five times per session.”
Now we’re talking.

M – Measurable
S.M.A.R.T. goals are measurable. We can keep track of them.
“I will drink more water.” How much?
How about… “I will drink five 18oz bottles of water each day.”
Sounds good!
“Client will improve short-term memory.” How can that be measured?
How about… “Client will recall at least 4 of 6 notes in a melodic sequence.”
That’ll work!

A – Attainable
S.M.A.R.T. goals are attainable. They are realistic and within reach, given the effort.
“I will be a famous actor on Broadway.” Maybe someday! What steps can you take now?
How about… “I will audition for the local production of The Little Mermaid next month.”
Totally doable.
“Client will walk independently, without assistance.” Admirable goal! But let’s take it one step at a time – literally.
How about… “Client will independently take 8 steps using a cane, by March 31, 2019.”
Challenging, but within reach.

R – Relevant
S.M.A.R.T. goals are relevant.
They have something to do with the area on which you’re focusing.
“I want to read more, so I will go swimming twice a week for three months.” Wait, what?
How about… “I want to read more, so I will join the ‘book of the month’ club.”
That’s more like it.
“Client wants to improve her fine motor skills. Client will write a song to express and cope with feelings of anxiety.” Not quite what we’re looking for right now.
How about… “Client wants to improve her fine motor skills. Client will practice isolating fingers by playing a 5-finger C Scale on the piano for 5 minutes each day.”
There we go!

T – Time-Bound
S.M.A.R.T. goals are time-bound. They indicate by when the goal is intended to be met.
“I will learn to speak Spanish.” Okay, but what’s your time-table?
How about… “I will learn 10 new Spanish phrases before my niece’s quinceañera next Saturday.” Having a schedule helps!
“Client will create a playlist of preferred music to ease anxiety.” When will they need it?
How about… “Client will create a playlist of 30 preferred songs [~90 minutes] to ease anxiety during his chemotherapy treatment this Friday.”
Friday it is!

So when it comes to New Year’s Resolutions, are your goals Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound?
If so, you’re thinking S.M.A.R.T.!
Lofty, vague resolutions can be intimidating and disappointing when we don’t live up to them. But S.M.A.R.T. goals can help us stay motivated and on track, by focusing on the specific objective, measuring progress, and establishing a schedule for completion.
Who keeps resolutions anyway? S.M.A.R.T. goals are better.

– Written by Kevin Middlebrooks, LPMT, MT-BC, NMT

Tempo Time Warp: Why Does Music Sound Slower with Exercise?

(a) Heart pounding, (b) out of breath, (c) muscles tired, (d) altered perception of time. One of these experiences is NOT what I would typically associate with exercise… until recently, that is. Any guesses which?

I’d just finished an evening run, and was driving back home from the trail with some of my favorite music playing. But whooooooaaaa, nelly, did it sound slow!

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Like, nigh unbearably slow. I’m talking goofily exaggerated slow-motion movie scene slow. Which was odd, because I was pretty certain the song in question was usually at a solid “andante” tempo. Suddenly it sounded like it was being sung by Treebeard the Ent, or Flash the DMV Sloth from Zootopia.

Full disclosure – I’m still pretty new to this whole “physical activity” thing.
So you may have noticed this strange phenomenon long ago. But this was a novel experience for me.
Why did some songs sound slower after exercising?
My only thought: “This can’t be the music. It must be my brain.”

Turns out, it probably was! A few google searches later, and I’m reading research articles about music, the brain, and exercise.
For us Music Therapists, the neurological effects of music on the brain are familiar territory – though still always exciting to learn more about!
But adding exercise into the mix? Apparently things get weird.

Here are some potential reasons for this bizarre Tempo Time Warp:

1. There is a tight link between motor activity and temporal processing.
A 2012 study (Hagura, Et al.) examined why professional ball players often experience the ball “slowing down” before hitting it. The findings – as well as other existing literature – indicate a tight link between action preparation and the areas of the brain devoted to coding the passage of time. These same areas of the brain are responsible for anticipating the amount of time an upcoming motion will take. Thus, the motor system plans accordingly. For this very reason, the Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy places an emphasis on tempo and rhythm in facilitating movement interventions, such that the brain is given a “start” and “end” point between each beat of a song to provide an efficient neural map to aid motor planning!

If our brain’s processing of time (e.g. tempo of music) can inform and invigorate our movements, it makes sense that – maybe – it can work in reverse too. Vigorous movement (e.g. exercise) could, perhaps, inform or even alter our perception of time in music.

2. The Musical “Sweet Spot”
According to an interview between Business Insider and one Dr. Costas Karageorghis – author of “Applying Music in Exercise and Sport” – “It seems that as exercise intensity increases, the human organism prefers a higher tempo […] However, there is a ceiling effect in terms of music tempo preference at around ~140 bpm and any increase in tempo beyond this does not result in correspondingly enhanced aesthetic responses or greater subjective motivation.”

Because people tend to prefer faster, more stimulating music when exercising at a high intensity, the need for more stimulation “may translate to a perception that the music tempo is decreasing.”

Essentially, this means that congruence between activity level and musical elements (especially tempo) matters. It would feel strange to watch a car chase in an action movie while listening to Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude, or to pair a lullaby with a football highlights reel. As Music Therapists, we call this the “Iso Principle” – matching the music to the current physical or emotional state of the client before gradually shifting. And apparently, if the music we listen to while exercising is incongruous with our activity level – outside of our tempo “sweet spot,” that is – it may even sound slower than normal!

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Furthermore, if our rate of movement continues to increase as we work harder in exercise (i.e. running at a faster pace), and yet the music stays at a steady tempo, it can feel as though the tempo is decreasing.



3. Think fast!
It turns out, our brains may even process things at a faster rate when we exercise, so the speed of external stimuli such as music feels as though it is decreasing. Dr. Karageorghis explains, “During low-to-moderate intensity exercise, the brain is oxygenated and so processing speeds can be increased as a consequence, especially in older adults.”

However, the reverse is true at higher intensities of exercise, such that processing of external stimuli such as music is actually limited.

4. “Everything hurts and I’m dying.”
The perception of time is also subjective, changing based on our experiences and what we’re doing. We know this as we get older, because my, how the years fly. When we’re ten years old, a full year is a significant chunk of our life, and thus time feels as though it moves more slowly than when we’re older. You’ve certainly heard the phrase “time flies when you’re having fun!” The opposite seems to hold true as well, doesn’t it? When you’re longing intensely for something, time can really slow down.

During intense exercise, then, the pain of physical exertion may cause a longing for relief, and thus a “slowing down” of time.

So it sounds like a lot of factors play into the Tempo Time Warp!
In any case, this is just another reminder of how intricate and complex – and just downright fascinating! – our brains’ responses to music in conjunction with other activities of life can be.

– Kevin Middlebrooks, LPMT, MT-BC, NMT

Read more about this topic from Lindsay Dodgson at Business Insider here: https://www.businessinsider.com/why-music-appears-to-slow-down-when-you-exercise-2017-9?r=UK&IR=T

Other Sources:
Hagura, N., Kanai, R., Orgs, G., & Haggard, P. (2012). Ready steady slow: Action preparation slows the subjective passage of time. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences,279(1746). doi:https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2012.1339

The Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy: https://nmtacademy.co/

What If Christmas Makes Me Cry?

*In accordance with HIPAA, and out of respect for our client’s privacy, the name “Ruth” will be used as an alias in this blog post.*

Happy Holidays!
Merry Christmas!
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! …right?
Or, at least… it’s supposed to be?

For a great many people – maybe yourself included – this season truly is a time of good cheer, fond memories, gatherings of family and friends, bright spirits, colorful decorations, and cherished traditions. It’s a time to be grateful, to be kind and compassionate.
And I sincerely hope that the holidays bring all of this and more to you and yours!

But acknowledging, and even experiencing, all of these warm emotions and happy thoughts typically associated with the holidays certainly does not negate or invalidate those painful feelings that may also be stirred up at this time of year.
Joy may be followed by sadness. Laughter may be preceded by tears.
Maybe the gift you’re really hoping for this season is just a little bit of relief from the seemingly constant fatigue, stress, irritability, anxiety, depression, etc. Stressors like lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, pressures (whether perceived or stated) of gift-giving, and loneliness can feel all the more amplified when the rest of the world seems to be telling you to celebrate. Family gatherings can bring up difficult and painful memories, whether of childhood trauma or the loss of a loved one.

As Music Therapists, colleagues, friends, brothers, sisters, parents, neighbors – it’s important to remember that any number of painful circumstances, situations, or seemingly conflicting emotions could be the reality of the person sitting next to us this holiday season.
Our clients, our friends, our family could very well be hurting, and that pain might even be brought to surface by the very season that’s intended to bring joy, peace, and good will.

Take the phrase, “Happy Holidays!” for example.
Do you ever feel a sense of pressure when you hear that?
What if I’m not happy at all? Am I doing this wrong? Shouldn’t I be happy right now?
What’s intended as a simple expression of well-wishes can start to feel like a command.
“Have a Holly Jolly Christmas. Do it.”

Kacey Musgraves says it well in her song “Christmas Makes Me Cry.”
Let’s pause and take a listen.


So how do we respond when Christmas makes us cry?

One good rule of thumb is validation. 
It’s okay not to be okay.
It’s alright if Christmas makes you want to curl up in a ball.
And if the last thing you want to hear right now is another chestnut roasting, sugar-plum dreaming, mistletoe waiting, bell jingling, sleighing song, then so be it!

A client – let’s call her Ruth – recently said to me, “I’m dealing with a lot of holiday depression right now. Is it okay if we don’t do Christmas music? I’d rather just keep singing country songs with you, if that’s alright. That actually helps me feel better.”

Can’t you almost hear that sense of pressure?
Ruth was asking *me* if *I* would be okay with not doing Christmas songs –
and of course that’s okay, because the session is for her.
But, since it’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” Christmas songs are just expected. And maybe they don’t need to be. 
Especially if they’re a detriment to a person’s mental health.

If Alan Jackson’s “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” does more good for your soul than “Silent Night” right now, then that is okay. Really. And if you change your mind later and feel like singing “Joy to the World,” that’s okay too!

Ruth, in fact, did ask for Christmas songs the following week (“The upbeat ones, though, not the sentimental ones.”) We sang “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and had a good laugh!

All of this to say, whatever you’re experiencing this holiday season, it’s worth respecting and acknowledging.
If you want to laugh, do it heartily. If you need to cry, then go right ahead.

It may not be a bright, shiny, sing-songy, happy good time, and that’s alright. (Though I hope it is!)
To paraphrase [or, y’know, just rewrite] the song “White Christmas:”

May your days be whatever they need to be right now,
And may all your Christmases be white.

If you’ll allow me to finish with a simple expression of goodwill – for real, though, no pressure –
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


– Written by Kevin Middlebrooks, LPMT, MT-BC


Resources:
What We Know About the Holiday Blues
The Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, 2017
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evidence-based-living/201712/what-we-know-about-the-holiday-blues

Photo: xenia_gromak / Photocase

Summer Camp Recap!

***Photos used with Permission***

Now that school is back in full swing, many a young mind is likely pining for the days of summer past (as in, like, four weeks ago.) Here at Metro Music Therapy, we have a lot of exciting new adventures ahead – new clients, new contracts, and even our very own Music Therapy room in a private school! *Stay tuned for future blog posts.*

But for now, let’s take a moment to reflect on MMT’s music-filled summer camp experiences:

Camp Cadi
At the beginning of summer, MMT participated for the third year with Camp Cadi – a week-long camp for girls that have suffered from childhood sexual abuse trauma. Our own Camila Casaw served as the Music Therapist for the duration of the camp, staying with the girls on site and providing Music Therapy sessions. For seven days, Camila worked with the girls to provide validation, a safe space for self-expression and empowerment through the power of music and therapy! It was a privilege to be able to collaborate with Camp Cadi again and we are grateful to make some music with these brave girls!


Pictured is a portion of Camila’s musical “toolbox,” and an artistic expression created by the campers.

Stone Soup Camp
We were also excited to participate for the fifth year with Stone Soup Camp, a summer camp for kids and adolescents with autism and other special learning needs. Stone Soup held two sessions this summer, one week in June and another week in July, with the super fun themes of – wait for it – Dinosaurs and the Renaissance! Everybody loves dinosaur songs and court jesters playing recorder! While the students engaged in all kinds of amazing activities at Stone Soup, each camp also included one Music Therapy session with Kevin Middlebrooks for each age group. The students practiced their motor skills, sustained attention, auditory discrimination, teamwork, vocalization, and self-expression – all through singing, dancing, drumming, and, yes, even musical jousting! Kevin had a blast with the students. It was an honor to walk the dinosaur and fight dragons with these amazing kids.


Left: M. shows some quick response time during musical jousting to hit the target (bell) that matches the dragon. Right: Everyone uses their “dinosaur bones” to play some not-so-fossilized rhythms.


We’re grateful for our summertime experiences, and for our relationships with these two wonderful summer camps. They’re offering such valuable experiences for their campers, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to have been able to add the benefits of Music Therapy to the mix.

And now school is back in session. Time to learn new things, make new friends, and create more music!

2018-08-24T21:00:54+00:00August 24th, 2018|Blog, Holidays, Mental Health, Music Therapy, Pediatric|

It Takes Two: Benefits of Interdisciplinary Co-Treatment

*In accordance with HIPAA, and out of respect for our client’s privacy, the initial A. will be used as an alias throughout this blog post.*
*Photo used with parent’s permission*

In the world of Private Practice, it’s not uncommon to spend the majority of a given week – professionally – alone. Of course, I am seeing clients, their families, and facility staff members as I drive from one location to the next. But most of these folks don’t know much about Music Therapy, apart from what I present to them. As for the sessions themselves, it’s usually just me and the client, and perhaps a parent stationed nearby. And sure, there are my wonderful colleagues at Metro Music Therapy, for whom I am immensely grateful. But we unfortunately only get to see one another in person about once or twice a week, for staff meetings and the like. Outside of those happy moments, they’re all off doing fantastic work with their own clients.

Suffice to say, I rarely have a chance to collaborate with another health professional in the midst of a session. Which is why those rare occasions are so much fun!

I recently had the privilege of working side by side with a Physical Therapist in a session with one of our mutual clients – we’ll call him A. The first thing worth mentioning is that this merging of sessions was suggested and arranged by none other than A’s parents! How cool is that? It’s always exciting when the benefits of interdisciplinary co-treatment are recognized and sought out by the client or his/her family. Let’s take a look at some of those benefits in A’s case:

1. It’s Practical – Time Efficient, Decreased Duplication of Services, More Hands!
I honestly believe that I would be a more effective therapist if I had four arms. Imagine the possibilities! Playing guitar with two hands, helping the client play another instrument with a third, and taking real-time data with a fourth – sounds like a sweet deal, right? Alas, even on my best days, I’m no Dr. Octopus. Which brings us to benefit #1: more professionals means more hands! It’s a simple, obvious benefit, but a benefit nonetheless. Live music is often preferred in a music therapy session, but that can be difficult if I need my hands to assist the client. With an extra set of hands, I’m able to incorporate all the good things that come with playing guitar (rather than a recording), such as easy fluctuation of tempo, while the client still receives physical assistance. And then there’s the time efficiency – in A’s case, his Physical Therapist and Music Therapist were able to see him simultaneously, so I imagine he was less worn out afterward!

When professionals work together, there’s less chance of the client “double-dipping” with a given service on the same day. For example, let’s say A’s Physical Therapist visits him to work on head posturing for 30 minutes, and then I show up to work on head posturing for 10 minutes, but in a different way. Sure, it’s not a bad thing to get more practice in on a given skill, but why not combine methods for a more concentrated practice session, with the combined knowledge and skills of two very different therapists? That brings us to our next major set of benefits.

2. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work – Combining Knowledge, Skills, and Experience
While I can address some physical goals through musical interventions, I am no Physical Therapist. There’s a significant difference between my knowledge and training regarding physical development and the knowledge and experience of A’s Physical Therapist. And similarly, there are skills that I possess as a Music Therapist that she does not, having never gone through my training. She may incorporate singing and music into some of her interventions, but not in the same way or with the same knowledge. Which is, again, why it’s so cool to work together! I had heard from A’s parents that he’d been working on holding his head up independently during Physical Therapy, but I did not entirely know what that looked like (or how the intervention was implemented in the safest, most beneficial way for A.) until seeing it with my own eyes.

Meanwhile, I recalled reading a research study in the Journal of Music Therapy, titled: “The Effect of Automated Interrupted Music on Head Posturing of Cerebral Palsied Individuals” (Wolfe, 1980). Participants in the study each wore a special head device, utilizing mercury switches which activated recorded music when the subject’s head was held erect, and paused the music when the subject’s head became improperly postured. Results of the study indicated that, for four of twelve participants, head control improved during the treatment condition. This essentially means that music can be a helpful contingency when it’s used to alert a client that they are holding their head properly.

We did not have a fancy head device, but with A’s Physical Therapist assisting him in initial head positioning and standing by to support him should he begin to fall, I was able to simulate the function of the device by playing guitar and singing while A. held his head upright. Whenever his head began to droop, the music would stop!
And there you have it: interdisciplinary co-treatment in action!


3. New Ideas – Next Time in Music Therapy…
What’s neat about co-treatment, even when it only happens rarely, is that it can inform individual treatment moving forward. Since that first co-treatment session, A.’s mother and I have replicated the intervention – using music as a contingency for head posturing, while she supports his head, should he start to fall – several times. And A. has been able to hold his head in place for up to about 45 seconds! I’m thankful that A’s mother brought me and his Physical Therapist together that day, for his benefit and for mine. Because, have I mentioned?
Co-treatment is just really fun!

4. It’s Fun!
Can’t really over-state this one. Other therapeutic disciplines are the coolest. There is so much we can learn from each other, and it’s such an honor to have a chance to work with another of my client’s therapists. I wish it could happen more often! In addition to the mixing of knowledge and experience, you’re mixing rapport and relationships too. My clients are awesome, and here’s someone else (namely, his Physical Therapist) who gets to work with A. and see how awesome he is every week!
And now we’re here with him together, working side by side?
That’s just… man, it’s a good time.


To quote Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock, sometimes,
“It takes two to make a thing go right.
It takes two to make it outta sight.”

– Written by Kevin Middlebrooks, LPMT, MT-BC

 

Resources:
Co-treating: What Is It and What Are the Benefits For Your Child?
Lauren Weichman – https://nspt4kids.com/therapy/co-treating-what-is-it-and-what-are-the-benefits-for-your-child/

The Effect of Automated Interrupted Music on Head Posturing of Cerebral Palsied Individuals
D. Wolfe – Journal of Music Therapy – 1980

Benefits of an Interdisciplinary Approach: A Case of Collaboration
Dana Howell-Kimberly Cleary – Physical & Occupational Therapy In Geriatrics – 2001

MMT Spotlight: Maria Nichta

This week, our spotlight is on Maria Nichta! Maria is one of our wonderful Music Therapists who provides Hospice and Bereavement services through the Songs of Hope program, teaches music lessons (adapted and otherwise), and works with adults and older adults at a day program. She also works with veterans at the VA and through the Wounded Warrior Project as both a Music Therapist and a Community Support Specialist. Why don’t you tell us a little more about you, Maria?


Where did you grow up / go to school?
I was born and raised in Cleveland, OH (the East Side!). I’m a Midwestern girl at heart. I went to Beaumont School for high school, and was deeply shaped by a few of my teachers there. I love Cleveland and the people there, but those winters can be brutal! I always encourage people to visit if they’ve never been. In 2012, I moved to Charlotte, NC for college, where I attended Queens University of Charlotte. I’ve really grown to love the south. Sometimes I sound a little confused when I talk, though – I’ll say “pop” (NOT “soda”) and “y’all” in the same breath.

How did you decide to pursue Music Therapy?
I’ve always loved music, and my mom says I was singing before I could talk. I played the piano and oboe in elementary school, and I started to teach myself guitar in high school. I always knew I wanted to use my passion for music in some way, while also being able to help others. In the span of a few months, both my private voice teacher and my high school choir teacher told me about Music Therapy. So I started researching what it took to become a Music Therapist, and after that, I was determined! It so perfectly combined my passions. It was definitely challenging at times, but I’m grateful to be doing such meaningful work.

Can you tell us a few of your favorite Music Therapy stories? One funny, one touching?
One of the funniest Music Therapy memories I have took place at one of my practicum sites in college. It was right around Halloween, so I planned a dancing activity for my session with kids. Since it was Halloween, I obviously decided to do “Thriller” by Michael Jackson. I was rushing to get to the session and downloaded the song to my phone right before I left – I had no service at the school, so everything had to be downloaded beforehand since I couldn’t access the internet. Everyone was so excited to hear “Thriller” when we started, but a little over a minute into the song, I realized I downloaded a version that was ONLY the background music. Once I realized this, I started singing to distract from my mistake. I kept leading as if nothing was wrong since we were in the middle of the activity, but I was so thrown off that I forgot half of the words to the song! I laugh every time I hear “Thriller” now.

I feel lucky to have so many touching Music Therapy moments, but one of the most touching memories I have was during my internship. I provided music therapy for a patient for just over 5 months, almost during my whole internship. There wasn’t really one specific session with this patient that stood out, but just my experience with him as a whole. He was unable to speak, due to having a trach in his throat. Even though he was unable to speak, we developed a strong rapport. He passed away just a week before my internship ended, and I think that music therapy brought him so much in his last few months of life.

What song is stuck in your head right now?
“Rainbow” by Kacey Musgraves. She just released her new album Golden Hour at the end of March and I’ve been listening to it non-stop! I’m not even a huge country music fan, but this album is turning me back into one.

If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
I’d have to say a Golden Retriever. I rejected this at first when friends and family said this about me because I felt like it was cliche, but I’ve come to happily accept it. I’m a very loyal, loving, and happy person – if I had a tail, I think it would always be wagging. I’m energetic and I really love to be around people. I’m a very animated person and am easily excited about virtually anything and everything. But, like Dug from Up, I sometimes get distracted and sidetracked (“Squirrel!!!”) when my brain jumps from one thing to the next quickly. I talk a lot and can be pretty persistent (like a dog saying, “Pet me! Pet me! Pet me!”), but at the end of the day it’s because I just love people so much! And I want them to know that.

If you could give a stranger an encouraging word, what would it be?
I would say, “You are enough. Exactly as you are.” This is something that I have to remind myself, time and time again. Yes, you should challenge yourself and strive to keep improving. But cut yourself some slack! You’re human. You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to be late sometimes, and you’re going to forget that thing that you swore you wouldn’t forget! You might not feel like you’re good enough, or smart enough, or strong enough, or whatever else. But you are enough. Yes you, human who is currently reading this. You are enough. Go look yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that! And imagine that I’m giving you a big hug (or a friendly pat on the back, whatever you need)!

Maria, thanks for all that you do!
You are a bright spot to our team, and we’re so thankful to have you around!

2018-04-30T03:38:53+00:00April 30th, 2018|Music Therapy, Uncategorized|

Welcome to Studio PTC!

Did you hear the news?
Studio PTC is officially open for business, and we couldn’t be more excited!


With a brand new space, we’re bound for brand new experiences, and we hope to offer the same to our brand new students! A world of music, exploration, and learning awaits in an environment we’re determined to make as motivating, rewarding, and downright fun as possible.
So what might you expect to find at Studio PTC?

First Things First: Let’s Boogie.
I think it says a lot about our team – and the type of instructional space this is turning out to be – that one of the first things to happen inside Studio PTC has been affectionately dubbed the #BlueWallBoogie.

Turning an empty room into a cozy and welcoming learning environment takes a bit of imagination and – sometimes – a bit of paint. And what better color for our brand new studio than “Metro Music Therapy Blue?”

Painting day – in true MMT fashion – became a dance party as the whole crew boogied away against the backdrop of a freshly blue-ified wall. Thus the #BlueWallBoogie was born, and we highly encourage any students, family, visitors, etc. to join in the dance craze that’s sweeping the nation (or, you know, Peachtree Corners, GA).


Here at Studio PTC, we engage in only the most serious and stoic of interactions.
Clearly.

Out-of-the-Box Learning
We know that not every student fits into the “box” that general music instruction may presuppose. Our sincere goal is to adapt our teaching methods to suit the needs of any learner. So we made it a priority to draft a general music curriculum that we can easily present in a variety of ways – both “traditional” and “unorthodox.”
If a student is a “typical” learner… great! We’ll have a blast making music together!
If a student is an “out-of-the-box” learner… great!
We’ll have a blast making music together, just the same!

Because each of us here at Metro Music Therapy is a Board-Certified Music Therapist, we all have some practice in making music accessible, engaging, and fun for people of all ages and learning styles. We’ll be bringing that experience with us into every bit of music instruction at Studio PTC.
Will it always look like your typical music lesson? Probably not.
And that’s the way we like it!

Take a look at this sophisticated graph.

Here you’ll see the “box” of expectations for music lessons.
If you look closely, there is also a happy chick.
The chick is not inside the box. It’s a metaphor, see?
We are the chick. We are out of the box.
At Studio PTC, a slogan and social media hashtag of ours is as follows:
#BeTheChick

Lights… Instruments… Music!
So what kind of music lessons do we offer at Studio PTC?
We’re glad you asked!

For students as young as Kindergarten, we recommend starting with Music Fundamentals. In these lessons, we’ll focus on all the fundamental musical concepts and skills that lay a foundation for everything to come. That means rhythm, dynamics, tempo, melody, music reading, voice, and piano exploration – Fun stuff!

After Music Fundamentals, students 2nd grade and above are invited to experience more fully the wonderful world of the Piano – a personal favorite, I have to say! During Piano lessons (as in all of our lessons), we’ll combine our curriculum with the students’ favorite music. After all, the music a student already loves will be the most exciting for him/her to learn!

Once a student has reached 4th grade, they’ll likely have developed their fine and gross motor skills to a point that they’re ready to try a stringed instrument – like Guitar or Ukulele! This is also the minimum age we recommend for Voice Instruction. If you’re wondering: “Why wait until 4th Grade?
We want our students to feel successful as they begin their musical journeys, so we’d hate to jump into something too soon before they’re ready! As such, voice lessons beginning before age 12 will focus mostly on vocal exploration, choosing appropriate repertoire, and caring for the voice.

Whether it’s Music Fundamentals, Piano, Guitar, Ukulele, or Voice —
Whatever the avenue, we believe that making music is a life-giving experience that anyone can enjoy.
We want to help our students do just that!

So drop on by!
Do a #BlueWallBoogie!
Remember to #BeTheChick!
There’s good times a-plenty to be had at #StudioPTC.
We’ll see you there!

Expecting the Unexpected

I am a planner. I like to have a plan for most things that I do, and even when I don’t have a plan, I like to at least plan for the fact that there will be no plan. I think it mostly comes from a desire to know what I should be expecting. A desire to be prepared, mentally, emotionally, etc.

In other words, me and Surprise don’t quite Harmonize.

But the world of Music Therapy is full of surprises – some big, some small – and that’s something that I’m growing to at least appreciate, if not yet fully embrace (I’m working on it!)
Rather than a predictable and repetitive melody, this job feels more like free jazz sometimes. That is to say: it can feel a little all over the place! Just when you think you know what chord must be coming next, you’ve shifted into a new key. Right as you get a feel for the beat, the drummer drops his sticks and starts playing trombone instead. During a session with a client in a common area, a well-intentioned passerby visiting the facility hands you a grapefruit with a wink and a, “What you’re doing is so nice, keep it up!” (True story.)
You never quite know what your week might entail!

There are certainly constants that remain true in every session, every interaction, every song and every intervention. And, as mentioned in a previous post, structure and repetition are valuable tools in Music Therapy (See: Déjà Vu! Repetition in Music Therapy) But I’ve started to notice that one of those constants is fluctuation. One of the things we as therapists can Expect – with some degree of certainty – is the Unexpected.

We can expect songs and interventions to take a turn and become something entirely different.
We can expect clients to enjoy instruments and songs we never thought they’d like.
We can expect to forget instruments and materials and need to improvise – and we can expect those moments to perhaps be even more engaging and beneficial for our clients than whatever we had initially planned! (Who knew?)
We can expect cancellations, rescheduling, relocating, and visitors.
We can expect to be offered a grapefruit in the middle of a session.
(Okay, maybe that one’s a stretch.)

A lot of these surprises are good things! When we can embrace the Unexpected, “roll with the punches,” and learn to improvise (musically or otherwise) to suit the situation, our clients often benefit. And so do we.

But other surprises can be more challenging.
Other surprises can be harder to respond to.
Because no matter how much you think you’ve prepared, no matter how long it might have even been Expected, no matter the fact that you know full well what Hospice care means…

The death of a client can still knock you off your feet.

Which, I think, in its own way, is a good thing. Therapeutic relationships are meaningful for the therapist as well as for the client, and grief is a natural, human response to loss. So the fact that it can be hard to “roll” with this particular “punch” is no surprise. In fact, it’s evidence of empathy, confirmation of care, the mark of a meaningful relationship. But it is still hard.

If we can Expect the Unexpected, isn’t the opposite also true?
Something Expected can still catch us off guard.
So what do we do when an Expected outcome arrives Unexpectedly?
How do we make sense of the surprising event when it suddenly comes?
I certainly don’t have answers, but I know that it’s okay to feel shocked.
To feel uncertain.
To not be prepared.
To not have a plan.

Rather than trying to file those things away with a logical (but maybe somewhat robotic), “It was Expected, and I had prepared,” we can try to appreciate the (natural, human) feeling of surprise, even if not quite embracing it yet. And maybe that can better equip us to support those who are feeling significantly more shocked and uncertain than we in the wake of this “Expected” event.
Because remembering that even the Expected can still be entirely Unexpected might just help us to Harmonize with the Surprised.

– Written by Kevin Middlebrooks, LPMT, MT-BC

MMT Spotlight: Garrett Vaughn

Did you know that Metro Music Therapy’s amazing staff includes more than just Music Therapists? Garrett Vaughn is our resident Recreational Therapist – and super Clemson fan – who serves as a Community Support Specialist with veterans through the Wounded Warrior Project. This week’s spotlight is on you, Garrett! Can you tell everyone a little about yourself?


Where did you grow up / go to school?
I grew up in a very small town in upstate South Carolina called Starr. (Population: 186 according to a quick google search) I attended Crescent High School there before heading down to Charleston, SC. I spent a semester at College of Charleston before realizing that home was the place for me. I transferred back to the upstate to finish my degree at Clemson University.

How did you decide to pursue Recreational Therapy?
I decided to pursue Recreational Therapy after my transfer to Clemson. I had originally planned on following the physical therapy path but upon arriving at Clemson found the RT major. I started the course work and really fell in love with Recreational Therapy. I began to work regularly at camps and different events for kids and adults with disabilities on campus. Then just before graduation, I completed an internship on a Traumatic Brain Injury unit at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, NC. It was there that I felt like I found my true calling, which was to work to help those with TBI/ABI. (Traumatic Brain Injury/Acquired Brain Injury)

So, what exactly is a “Community Support Specialist (CSS)?”
What sorts of things do you do with your clients?
As a CSS, I serve through the Wounded Warrior Project to help veterans with traumatic brain injuries to reintegrate into their communities. My process when being assigned to a new warrior would be to first visit in home a few times to gain a rapport with the family and the warrior. In theses visits I would learn about the warrior’s likes and dislikes, as well as what things that he/she enjoyed doing prior to his/her injury. Once I find these things out and the family is comfortable enough with me to allow me to take their warrior out of the house, we go out into the community and do things to stimulate the warriors brain, and just generally show them a good time. An example of this would be things like going to the movies, going on hikes, shooting guns, going fishing, etc. Anything that we can do to allow the warrior to participate in things that they enjoyed doing prior to their injury.

If you had a superpower, what would it be?
If I had a superpower, it would definitely be teleportation! Being able to jump from place to place instead of having to drive or to fly would help to make me extra productive! Plus, no more paying for travel sounds pretty great!

Favorite Sport? Book? Movie?
My favorite sport has always been baseball! (Braves fan since birth) My favorite book is “Fall of Giants”, by Ken Follett. Finally, my favorite movie is Good Will Hunting!

What is your life motto / slogan / mantra?
I don’t necessarily have a motto/mantra but I once saw a saying that has always stuck with me and really influences the way I try to live my life. It’s “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases from being shared.” I love this, because in my life, I really try to focus on promoting as much happiness as I can. Life is hard enough as it is sometimes, so why not try to share a little light with those who come across your path?

Thanks for all the incredible work you do with our Warriors, Garrett!
We’re so glad to have you as part of the MMT family!

2018-03-20T19:33:32+00:00March 20th, 2018|Blog, Uncategorized|
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