The Undeniable Power of Music by Daneyelle Elder, MT-BC

I think that it is safe to say that no matter who you are, you enjoy some type of music. There is a well known saying that says, "Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast". In my most recent work as a music therapist, I have witnessed this to be true in every way. I have the privilege of working at a hospital with patients that are 65 and older. But here's the kicker: they all struggle with mental illness. In all my experience prior to this job of working with various populations, this environment has stretched me the most and has taught me to be adaptable in every situation.  What makes my job as a music therapist so meaningful is that I am able to use the powerful force of music to promote positive changes in my patients. Here are 2 things that music does in my work:

Music creates a starting point to build relationships.

Like I mentioned before, I never know on a given day what to expect when I walk into my sessions. I could be facing verbally agitated patients, crying patients or confused patients. The patients could be new to the unit and anxious. On some days it's all of these combined in one session. The one tool that I have is my music. As soon as I whip out my guitar and begin to sing "Blue Suede Shoes" or "Side by Side", people began to perk up and start singing. Music becomes the bridge that draws us together. I have seen so many patients release tension and anxiety while listening to music and singing. Most importantly, it brings the patients closer to the staff that are serving them. We get to see the patients be themselves and have a normalized moment, filled with singing, dancing and even reminiscing. The staff get to experience "normal" moments in an abnormal situation. For a moment, the patients are not focused on the challenges that are in front of them.

Music creates a safe space for authenticity and vulnerability.

No one enjoys talking aloud about their problems. It's not our nature. A part of my job is being able to provide education regarding the treatment the patients are receiving as we work together to be discharged back into the community. It can be pretty awkward sometimes talking about present issues, and I'm pretty sure that the majority of them are looking at me facilitate a group thinking, "I'm old enough to be your grandparent." I love using music to try to incorporate the themes of what needs to be discussed, because I've found that people can relate more to a song, than my talking voice. Sometimes, I just print lyrics and we listen to music together, assessing how it makes us feel, what words stood out to us in the song, and this can create even more discussion. Sometimes, I use improvisation and songwriting and the patients are always amazed at the ideas that we come up with together. I think that this is important because it helps them validate how they are actually feeling. Music just has a way of breaking down our walls that we have put up and affirming that we are not alone in the world. I am so very thankful that I can incorporate music into my life everyday and enrich the lives of others by serving them with music.

What does music do for you?