Changing Lives Through Music Therapy

What would you do if you had a health issue and could not speak? Or were so overwhelmed by an issue that words simply could not convey the depth and range of your experience?

At some point in our lives, most of us have struggled to find the words to share our feelings, especially when we are filled with strong emotions. The ability to connect with other people is crucial to our well-being.

For many of us, music has made us want to dance, cry from the beauty of it and caused us to feel joy or sadness. Music is the universal language. It’s the avenue that spurs connection, emotion, laughter, tears, reflection, motivation and discussion.

Music therapy, a structured and skillful use of music and musical elements by an accredited music therapist (MTA), can promote, maintain, and restore mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health and well-being.

Music therapists are trained to take the smallest responses and turn them into meaningful moments. At Eastern Health, they work with clients, patients, and residents to develop a musical and therapeutic relationship through improvisation, instrumental play, song-writing, vocalization, movement to music, music listening, and lyric analysis.

To quote one individual participating in music therapy, “music is the spice of life.”

March is “Music Therapy Month.” To celebrate and highlight the benefits of music therapy, we are featuring vignettes by Susan LeMessurier Quinn from the Janeway Music Therapy Program and the Tuckamore Youth Treatment Centre.

Janeway Music Therapy Program
Meet Minxie!

Minxie has Cerebral Palsy and Chronic Lung Disease, but is also non-verbal, profoundly deaf and has a cochlear implant. Minxie’s mom, Aimee, is a true believer in the benefits of music therapy.

“It’s helped her grow and thrive in so many astounding ways,” says Aimee. “Amazingly, music therapy has given her the ability to vocalize on pitch with the music therapist!”

Young patient, Minxie, shows her guitar skills to music therapist Susan LeMessurier Quinn. (With permission the Janeway Foundation.)

Young patient, Minxie, shows her guitar skills to music therapist Susan LeMessurier Quinn. (With permission the Janeway Foundation)

One single, amazing note can provide so much insight into the abilities of a child. Completing melodic phrases with a note, matching pitch with the therapist, and vocalizing notes appropriate to each song and key change, are all huge accomplishments.

Minxie also works very hard to control her arm movement and has developed her right hand so she can strum the guitar, tap the drum, and play a shaker. She can now grasp and shake a shaker independently for a complete song and can engage in music making with her therapist.

“Thanks to this program, Minxie enjoys therapy,” stresses Aimee. “She is becoming more comfortable with the sounds in her environment, is developing her muscle tone, and is increasing her motor skills!”

Meet Graysen!

“Music can be placed in a variety of categories. For some, it’s simply music. For others, it’s an escape, a place to go after a long, hard day,” says Graysen’s mom, Alice. “But for my family, music is so much more!! For my son Graysen, music is his voice – a voice that I’d been waiting so long to hear.”

One of the areas that music therapists work in at Eastern Health is the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). I first saw Graysen there when he was brought in experiencing respiratory distress and an elevated heart rate. It quickly became clear to me that Graysen was very engaged by the flute.

Music therapist, Susan LeMessurier Quinn, plays flute to a contented Graysen. (Photo with permission for Janeway Child Life Department)

Music therapist, Susan LeMessurier Quinn, plays flute to a contented Graysen. (Photo with permission for Janeway Child Life Department)

For 30 minutes, I played a steady melody, initially matching Graysen’s heart rate and breath. I then gradually slowed the tempo to help him relax. His heart rate actually decreased as the musical tempo decreased!

As a result, Graysen did not require medication to reduce his elevated heart rate following the music therapy session.

Graysen has come a long way from PICU and is now an outpatient of the music therapy program and is no longer on oxygen!

“I’m so grateful for Susan and so glad she was able to unlock this treasure,” says Alice.

Tuckamore Youth Treatment Centre

All youth at the Tuckamore Centre are provided with the opportunity to receive individual music therapy programming as well as weekly group programming.

Youth between the ages of 12 and 18 have participated in lyric discussions, group and individual song-writing projects, recordings, Christmas Talent Show, and individual programming based on skill development such as learning instruments. Some young people at the centre are even working on a song-writing project for Anti-Bullying Day.

“Music has always been a huge part of my life and something that’s very important to me,” says one young client of the centre. “The music therapy program here at Tuckamore is amazing. Not only am I learning more about the music I play, I’m also learning how to express myself through my music.”

One of the first song-writing initiatives at the Tuckamore Centre was based around the significance and individual meaning of the Tuckamore tree and the program at the centre. Each young person wrote their own song.

Here is an excerpt from a song written by a young client of the centre, that reflects about the connection between the Tuckamore Tree and personal growth:

Tuckamore tree lives through rain and snow
Just like me it needs the sun to grow
Tuckamore tree is someone that I know
Together we will grow

We bend but don’t break
We give more than we take
We learn from our mistakes
It mends our heart aches

“I am always impressed with each young person’s willingness to engage in music therapy,” says Andrea Sweeney, CYC supervisor. “Those resistant to conventional talk therapy, often participate in music therapy with ease.” She adds: “At Tuckamore, we have had the joy of seeing our youth perform through our music therapy program. It’s a powerful, and often emotional, moment to witness our youth expressing themselves through music.” ■

Susan LeMessurier Quinn, MMT, MTA is an accredited music therapist and supervisor working at the Janeway and Tuckamore Centre.

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