I had the privilege to participate in a Thanksgiving prayer service and hymn sing this afternoon at work. I provided some violin music and vocal leading of some of the hymns. I do enjoy using my violin whenever I can, and I was even able to play with the other music therapist in the facility. I was happy to be involved.

Though I do not consider myself a person of religion, I always feel compelled to listen to gospels and sermons and readings (unfortunately with a sometimes too-critical ear). The care center where I work is Catholic, and there is a priest who works there, but today’s service included a reading and reflection by an ordained minister who happens to work in IT. I hardly ever hear any of the priest’s readings, but I was really refreshed by this minister’s delivery of his message. He spoke about the importance of sharing — sharing of yourself with others, sharing your gifts, and sharing compassion. This message led me to consider how thankful I am (yes, I’m using that word on the eve of Thanksgiving) to be in a position where my purpose is to share. 

I have had a long struggle with my ability to identify myself as a musician, and even if I were able to do so, what exactly it meant to me. However, I am most certainly a music therapist, and in that role, I provide and share the music I create to benefit others. I have not been able to reconcile how performing is important. I am able to believe, though, that providing music in a client-centered way is, in fact, useful. Special, even. I am relieved to report that I feel this way.

I am happy to be able to share.

NewsPod and standards

I just listened to Friday’s podcast “NewsPod” from the BBC, and the last story describes how Yorkshire’s anthem, “Ilkla Moor Baht’At,” is dying out. A music teacher uses the tune to teach intervals, and has noticed that in the past three years, fewer and fewer of his students know the song.

(Should you like to hear only this portion of “NewsPod,” skip to 29:04 in the podcast.)

Over the months I have worked at my care center, I have learned many “standards” from the 1930s, 1940s, and on. However, many of those songs I hadn’t known before I worked there. Once I learned them, though, I have been able to use them in a variety of situations.

A surprising number of family members have come up to me and asked what music I predict will be provided for me and my generation when I’m elderly. And I always answer that I don’t know.

There isn’t “standard” music for my age group, which is definitely not to say that each person I serve shares the same taste in what we call “old standards.” With the rise of availability and access to music from all around the globe, there will be simply no way to predict what any one group of people will enjoy. Music therapy is very concerned with patients’ and clients’ musical preference. I wonder just what that will be in a few decades.

Dance, storytelling, moths, and music

I am sorry to be missing the American Music Therapy Association National Conference this year, but alas, I simply will not be there.


Here in Minneapolis, though, I have been reading up (however briefly) on some information I’ve been given.

On Monday, one of my co-workers at the care center brought in an article published in the AARP Bulletin, entitled, “Living Art.” This co-worker is very active in theatre, and has even begun a drama group at the care center. I have been able to see their rehearsals, and I love seeing residents display a variety of talents.

Find the article here.

The author of the article definitely advocates for the benefits of creative expression in residents in assisted living and care centers. I was really  happy to read about “The Dancing Heart” program, offered by the Kairos Dance Theatre right here in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The work of Stagebridge Theatre Company in Oakland, California, was also included in the piece, but of course what interested me most was the mention of Songwriting Works.

The mission of Songwriting Works is to “restore health and community through the power of song.” As the name implies, their intention is to spread the impact of songwriting to the elderly population. I was curious, as I perused their website, if there would be any mention of music therapy. In the FAQ page, there were some nicely worded summaries of the distinction between music therapy and their mission.

Songwriting Works home page

Songwriting Works FAQ page

I am always excited to know what else there is out there.

*While reading about Stagebridge Theatre Company, I thought that the awesome podcast, The Moth, could venture out to the elderly population. That would be storytelling.

Art therapy

A few months ago, the care center where I work decided to trial mneme therapy. Mneme therapy “uses everyday pleasurable experiences such as singing, movement, story-telling and painting in a unique combination to stimulate sustained attentive focus(SAF)” (Source). Since then, my care center has hired a mneme therapist to come once a month and see six different residents per month (a resident receives only one session).

The head of the therapeutic recreation department, of which I am a member, had taken to calling mneme therapy “art therapy.” Because I’d never heard of this kind of therapy, I looked into it a little and found that no, it was definitely not art therapy. The information I found on the therapy makes clear that it is not art therapy; they are not trying to pass off as such. I found the following passage here.

Is this art therapy?

No. Unlike art therapy, MT is not a psychological process and does not require state licensing.  Instead it uses everyday pleasurable experiences such as singing, movement, story-telling and painting in a unique combination to stimulate sustained attentive focus(SAF).  SAF has been scientifically proven to initiate neuroplasticity or the ability of the brain to remap pathways and move functions.

I tried to make clear to my department head that there is a distinction between the therapies. Quite a distinction — many years of education, for one. I take issue with miscalling an activity or experience a creative arts therapy because there is so much effort and time that goes into becoming a licensed music therapist, art therapist, drama therapist, etc.

Calling mneme therapy “art therapy” seemed to fade away, until Monday at our department’s weekly planning meeting at which one of our administrators spoke to us about the facility’s new “art therapy fund.” He went on to say that donors can designate their funds to go to our “new art therapy program,” and continued to use this description for the mneme therapy we have. He left very quickly, but I was able to bring up the distinction and my concerns at the meeting. My thinking is that if we are telling the public that we do, in fact, have art therapy, then we should, in fact, have art therapy. I have no problem with mneme therapy, so far as I know about it. I do take issue with calling something that it’s not.

Bereavement care

I had a meeting with the director of my care center’s pastoral care department today regarding bringing music therapy into staff bereavement services already offered by pastoral care. I am really excited to now be a part of the services. I’d like to be more integral in the care of those residents in hospice and in creating more support for grieving staff. Just this morning, I had a conversation with a staff member who was angered and emotional about the fast decline and death of a resident. Of course I thought she could benefit from the bereavement services that will be happening, but I also know that there is such little time any staff has to process the losses of those residents in their care. So, I am sure many staff will choose not to participate. I’d love to be able to make such services available and easily accessible to all. The next services are on Friday.

A day of observance

I work in a Catholic care center. I, however, am not Catholic. I am also not ready to start talking about or singing about or anything about Thanksgiving, even though it is now officially November. So, I researched All Saints Day (today), and All Souls Day (tomorrow). Knowing that the days are observed in the Catholic faith, I doubted the majority of my residents would take any issue to discussions about the special days.

Certainly, the true definition of the two days is elaborate and, well, based in Catholicism. But I was interested when I read, “All Soul’s Day is a Roman Catholic day of remembrance for friends and loved once who have passed away” (Source). This, of course, is a very simple overview of All Souls Day, and I like it.

In my internship, I worked primarily with hospice patients. Now, most of the work I do is with residents in a care center, some of whom live in the palliative care unit. Many of my residents won’t live through the rest of this calendar year.

I have been searching for ways in which to commemorate the lives of those patients and residents who have died. Perhaps tomorrow, I can create my own version of All Souls Day, and use a portion of the day to spend honoring those people who have passed away.

Do you practice any kind of memorial for passed patients or residents?

Care center competition

Happy Halloween!

I was truly surprised when I went to work in the care center today. Each department came up with some elaborate decorations and costumes.

A shot of the house across the street

Back in June or July (I’m not kidding), during one of department’s monthly planning meetings, one of the coordinators mentioned Halloween. The director of our department is new and hasn’t been here for a whole year; he was not aware of the complexity that Halloween apparently involves. According to that particular unit coordinator, many departments had already begun planning their themes and performances (!) for Halloween. Again, this was in mid-summer.

I love Halloween. So I got all into it when one of the suggested themes was “cops and robbers.” I changed it to “cops and convicts” because I like the alliteration, and immediately decided that half of the department could be cops, searching out the convicts.

I wrote up short scripts for coordinators who were cops and those who were convicts. The day included “pass-bys,” where one or the other coordinator spotted the other and staged a chase through the halls, thereby involving all of the residents in sight and earshot. We took mug shots of the convicts, and showed them to residents to help the cops seek out those pictured. We prepared a song and even created a jail for this portion of the day where all of the departments’ themes were judged.

We did pretty well. I thought the whole thing was pretty fun.

Another shot of the same house!

We did not win, though. We didn’t even get second place. Not even the department whose theme was “Clue,” and who dedicated different offices and conference rooms to the various spaces in the movie, won or took second. The winner was an Egyptian theme, but I don’t know what their shtick was. Or how they engaged the residents.

Seems that I don’t like losing. But I love Halloween.

My work in the TCU

A few days ago, I provided some description of some of the work I do in the care center. Though the transitional care unit (TCU) where I see residents once a week is inside the care center, the unit is something of a different animal.

In the TCU, the residents live for as many as 90 days. Many of these residents had recently suffered a fall, a stroke, or some other injury or trauma that requires rehabilitation. Because these residents and their families are not preparing them to live on the unit permanently, most of the residents are not active members in the care center community events and activities.

My goals with this group vary widely. I never know who I will see. I can hardly predict the size of the group. The majority of these residents are occupied with other therapies and so are not available for music therapy on the Thursday mornings when I offer it. Rarely do I see the same face two weeks in a row.

For these reasons, I make flash assessments frequently. One of the five residents I gather may need work recovering her ability to articulate clearly following a stroke. Another resident may no longer be able to function on his left side. Still another has become so depressed he sleeps for most of the day.

So, how do I provide to residents in the TCU?

I meet them where they are, first and foremost. If the energy of the group is upbeat, I align myself to that. If it’s contemplative, I follow that lead. For instance, one resident wanted to process how she felt about the drastic change in her voice. She reminisced about how much she sang when she was young. Sometimes these particular groups are filled more so with processing change than anything else.

If the group seems cheerful and cordial with one another, I might distribute handheld percussion instruments. I may target gross motor function, layering more complex movement directionals given observed ability. I might use paddle drums with these residents as well.

When the group is quiet or agitated or confused, I might begin with familiar, topical songs to focus attention. From there, I might move to seeing the residents on a mini 1:1 basis.

I almost always feel excited after leaving this group. I can see active participation from many of these residents, perhaps because they are accustomed to having to work quite hard in their stay on the TCU.

Bereavement for staff

I am really excited to have begun the process of coordinating with the head of our pastoral care department in co-leading bereavement services for staff. 

One of the residents I served passed away unexpectedly on Friday, and I have been consumed with the thought of facilitating monthly music therapy sessions for staff who provide direct cares. I had opportunity to discuss this idea with pastoral care, and was relieved to find out that such bereavement services are provided once every six weeks or so. But, the head of the department seemed very interested in my involvement.

Since my internship, I have been interested in grief counseling and in hospice care. I am happy I am in a position where I can be a part of both communities.