Written by Rachael McBride – 5/5/2011

A kindergartener strums on a guitar while music therapist Richard Bogen holds it and plays the chords. “Look who’s knocking at the door,” Bogen sings while 6-year-old Matthew taps a set of bongo drums. “Matthew’s knocking on the door,” the class sings in return.

The class, comprised of mildly autistic students from kindergarten to second grade, remembers the song from the previous week. Bogen says it’s a sign of progress.

Fuller Elementary School in Tempe is one of the area schools that, despite economic issues, hires music therapists such as Bogen to help students in special education classes develop communication, motor and social skills.

In 2009, budget cuts forced the Arizona Department of Economic Security to slash hourly reimbursement for music therapy in half. Bogen said this pushed many music therapists out of state or to search for new professions.

The ASU-graduate works for Lisa Sampson, who has owned Creative Arts Therapy in Scottsdale for 20 years. Her practice specializes in multiple disciplines, including music, art, dance, drama, and creative writing.

“The beauty of art therapy is that there’s such a wide variety,” Sampson said. “There’s an outlet for everyone.”

The problem is that not everyone can afford the treatment. Creative Arts Therapy holds contracts with multiple school districts and medical centers, including the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, but Sampson said expanding patient care is directly related to dollar power.

Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center is one of the Valley hospitals that budgets a music therapy staff. Tracy Leonard-Warner, Banner’s music therapy coordinator, started the program 14 years ago.

She said that currently most hospitals do not receive reimbursement from patients’ insurance companies for providing music therapy services. However, she added that she hopes eventually they will.

Leonard-Warner cited the lack of outside funding and the economic downturn as the reason more hospitals don’t sponsor such programs.

“Because the program doesn’t bring in revenue, some hospital administrators just see it as ‘fluff,’ even though it’s not,” Leonard-Warner said. “Our patients have psychosocial needs too. We see the results every day.”

Some of the most common arts therapy sessions include pre- and post-surgical relaxation, labor and delivery, Alzheimer’s and dementia, hospice patients, special needs and autism, and rehabilitation.

The majority of the students that Bogen works with are mildly autistic. He said the therapy is important because it uses music to address children’s developmental needs.

That’s where his job differs from that of a music teacher, he said.

“I’m not teaching the kids to play instruments so they can be musicians,” Bogen said. “I’m training them to do things like use their hands functionally and to work cohesively in groups.”

His goals for his special needs patients fall into four categories: management, academic, physical, and social.

“I’ve been working weekly with these kids just since January, and already I’ve noticed improvements,” Bogen said. “They greet me by name, they’re actively engaged, they’re less fidgety, they share the instruments.

“That’s progress.”

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