From Music Therapy to Life

One of my major responsibilities as a music therapist is to help my friends develop interests, skills, and adaptions helpful in their daily lives…for the rest of their lives. Take, for example, my friend G. She is challenged with a significant hearing loss as well as limitations in communication, academics, motor skills, and behavior. She enjoys playing guitar, autoharp, snare drums, and tone bells, and she particularly enjoys singing improvisational songs despite her inability to sing on pitch or with discernible lyrics. G’s motor limitations require her to play an open-tuned guitar and open-tuned autoharp with soft mallets. Several years ago, when she moved to high school, I invited G to be my music assistant in Vacation Bible School. This was a challenging step and somewhat of a gamble since she still had lots of room for improvement in the key target areas of compliance and cooperation with the group leader and peers without major protest. Her family and I were not certain if she could tolerate five evenings of 3+ intense hours of music for back-to-back large groups of children ages 3 to 11. But, interestingly, the challenging situation brought out the best in G. She sat up in front of the group with her open-tuned guitar with her music book and, unexpectedly, followed the therapist’s lead in each group session. G helped pass out and collect rhythm instruments, helped lead signed songs, and strummed and sang the traditional, rowdy VBS songs with great gusto. One evening a little girl came into our room with an adult leader before her group came in for music. The little girl was crying in a brokenhearted manner. My friend G was not typically aware of or responsive to the emotions of others, but she seemed moved by this youngster’s tears. G sat down in front of the little girl with her guitar, reached out to touch the hand of the little girl, then started playing her guitar softly and “singing” an improvised song to the youngster. The girl calmed down and responded to G’s friendship. It was a very touching moment for all involved . Her family and I were thrilled my long-time music therapy friend could use her music to impact the life of another. Note: photo & info shared with permission.

2017 UPDATE! My friend G assisted with VBS again this year (2017). She used an open-tuned autoharp as well as her guitar (and sometime keyboard) as accompanying instruments, and she enjoyed joining in the ensembles and group singing, especially leading sign language songs. As you can see by this photo, G had a grand time again this year. She is still learning to say or sign “ok” rather than pouting when asked to follow directions. And we didn’t take pictures of her occasional behavior issues, but those were less significant and less frequent than years past. It is rewarding to see this young lady take steps forward every year.

+ NOTE to music therapy professionals, students, and interns – Read more music therapy musings, experiences, successes, mistakes, and lessons learned, as well as tons of ideas and strategies by reading other posts on our blog