Health Notes: Officials Recognize Healing Properties of Music Therapy

Photo courtesy of Amy Rodgers Smith: Founder and Executive Director of On A Better Note Music Therapy LLC, Amy Rodgers Smith is one of only 15 board-certified music therapists in West Virginia.

Photo courtesy of Amy Rodgers Smith: Founder and Executive Director of On A Better Note Music Therapy LLC, Amy Rodgers Smith is one of only 15 board-certified music therapists in West Virginia.

Posted: Oct 03, 2014 1:41 PM MST

Updated: Oct 04, 2014 7:00 AM MST

By Erin Timony

For some, childhood memories include an attempt at mastering some sort of musical instrument — whether by choice or because a parent thought it an important life skill to master.  For some, it stuck.

For others … it takes years and countless hours of sitting down to practice before it becomes clear that no amount of lessons or sitting down to practice will change the feeling of torture that may accompany the attempt of creating music.  Despite any grudges that may linger from learning or trying to learn how to play an instrument, evidence shows merely listening to music may have health benefits, and music therapy is a small, but growing field in West Virginia.

Healing properties.  Simple sounds can be a powerful force in the human body.

Music therapy can be used as a tool for treating individuals suffering from a wide range of ailments, including abuse issues, cancer, chronic pain, post traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse, according to Amy Rodgers Smith, chairwoman of the West Virginia State Task Force for Music Therapy West Virginia.

Smith is a board-certified music therapist as well as the founder and executive director of On A Better Note Music Therapy LLC. She is one of only 15 board-certified music therapists in West Virginia.

Results from music therapy include but are not limited to: reduction of pain, anxiety and stress as well as improvement in symptom management, communication skills, social skills and developmental skills.

So what, exactly, is music therapy?

Like any therapeutic program, Smith said music therapy entails an individualized treatment plan and data tracking. Progress reports give indications of strides gained through the program.  As stated by the American Music Therapy Association, “music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional, or MT-BC, who has completed an approved college degree program and additional clinical training hours.”

Since the Music Therapist-Board Certified credential is a national certification granted and monitored by the Certification Board for Music Therapists, anyone from any state who has completed at least a four-year undergraduate degree program in music therapy and 1,200 hours of clinical internship under the supervision of a current MT-BC can sit for the board examination and become certified.

Music therapists use both instrumental and vocal musical activities that can include performing, composing, listening and improvisational experiences to implement a vast continuum of results.

However, Smith said that because the Mountain State does not currently have any undergraduate or graduate programs in music therapy, those in the Mountain State today still have to leave the state to pursue a degree in music therapy.  With West Virginia University in the process of developing an undergraduate degree program that is scheduled to open in fall 2015, Smith said the unavoidable exodus of students may change.

The appeal

Because of music’s role in many peoples’ everyday lives, Smith said individuals are usually highly motivated by therapy interventions that involve music therapy and are able to better engage in the therap

She explained that music functions differently in the brain than other types of therapy because of neuroplasticity — an umbrella term that refers to changes in neural pathways and synapses which are due to changes in behavior, environment, neural processes, thinking and emotions, as well as changes resulting in bodily injury.

Due to the neurological intricacies tying the brain and music together and how it relates to neuroplasticity, Smith said using music as therapy is “a unique resource.”

In 2013, the WVU School of Medicine highlighted Cindy Lewellen, a certified music practitioner who volunteers her time to play the harp for patients at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown.

“There have been studies about pain and how much pain medication people need and that, you know, a half hour of music can reduce the need for pain meds and there are many fewer side effects from harp music,” Lewellen said in the WVU Health Report. “Sometimes I’m playing for people who are in pain, and I’ll play very quiet, slow music, simple music. Sometimes if it’s somebody who has had a heart problem, I’ll play very rhythmic music.

“If I’m playing in the (Intensive Care Unit) and I know somebody who has had a heart attack, I don’t want to mess with that. My music is going to be nice, steady heartbeat music. At least when I started, it seemed like every other patient I played for went to sleep. And that was the biggest gift I could give them because a hospital is a very noisy place.”

How it’s done

A visit to On A Better Note Music Therapy LLC’s Facebook page shows examples of the personal stories of music therapy beneficiaries, like Keeley Drabish.  While watching a video of Drabish and Smith interacting, Smith sings while Drabish plays along with an instrument. Smith said the focus of the session was to work on Drabish’s “social skills” by targeting “turn-taking” and “waiting skills.”

Smith said she works with children and adults with special needs or who are recovering from some neurological event that has happened in their lives. One client is an older patient who survived a stroke and, with Smith’s help, is working on some neurological music therapy rehabilitation.

“Ultimately, the goal is to work on nonmusical skills such as communication, behavior or academic learning concepts,” Smith said in one video. “The purpose is not necessarily to teach the instrument, but to use music as a tool in treatment.

“In a normal session we use a variety of interventions — singing, playing instruments, sometimes song writing or lyric analysis, depending on what the nonmusical goals are for that client or that patient.”

Drabish’s parents, Anissa and Scott, discuss in one video the ways they’ve witnessed the therapy’s benefits firsthand.  At first, they said it was hard for their daughter to sit still due to a short attention span. Now, they say they’ve seen “enormous progress” as far as her ability to sit still and follow the directions and instructions that Smith gives, “It’s just been a very good program,” they said.

Because Keeley Drabish “was singing since she was two,” the parents said they thought using music as a therapy technique would be something she would enjoy, while building social skills and interaction skills. Drabish stays very engaged with Smith, keeping eye contact and staying attentive, they said.  “We are very, very happy with the progress,” they said.

Not a new idea

According to Smith, using music as therapy has been happening in the United States for more than 60 years with the governing body of the American Music Therapy Association overseeing educational programs in 33 states.  “Probably more states than not have been using (music therapy),” Smith said.\

In order to be credentialed as a music therapist, one must sit for the National Board and become board certified while meeting continuing education and recertification requirements every five years.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, signed into law in 1990, music therapy is considered a related service. A related service is a service that falls into certain categories and guidelines. When that service is deemed necessary for a child’s education, it must be put into IDEA’s Individualized Education Plan, with its costs covered by the school.  However, the “deemed necessary” stipulation often becomes a sort of a barrier because many schools don’t understand the potential benefits of music therapy, Smith said. In order to rectify that, Smith advocates educating school personnel and the public just what the benefits of music therapy are by introducing it to the school environment.

According to Smith, some school districts in the Mountain State provide music therapy for their Pre-K-12 special education students.  “It is my understanding that these schools are in the Martinsburg, Wheeling and Huntington areas,” she said.

Coming back home

Over the last two to three years, Smith said more young, professional music therapists have moved back home to their native Mountain State.  Raised in Parkersburg, Smith took a long and winding road before ending up back “home.”  She received her bachelor’s degree in music therapy with a minor in psychology from Ohio University. She completed her music therapy internship at Palmetto Health Baptist Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina, and after her internship, Smith founded On A Better Note Music Therapy in Houston, Texas. Smith became the director of music therapy at Alvin Independent School District and began earning a master’s degree in early childhood special education at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.  Smith followed her husband to Alexandria, Virginia, and taught preschool there, but the couple recently returned “home” to Morgantown.  Not only is Smith excited to be home but also to have the opportunity to provide access to music therapy. She’s also optimistic about the jobs the music therapy niche could create.

Long-term goals

One of the goals of the Task Force is to request the music therapy profession and the Music Therapy-Board Certified credential receive state recognition. Another Task Force objective is to have music therapy added to all West Virginia Medicaid waivers so all clients can access musical therapy.  Under the three different West Virginia Medicaid waivers, music therapy is currently reimbursed at a rate of $1,000 per year under the “Goods and Services” section only available under the “Self-Directed” waiver participants. For West Virginians on the traditional form of waiver, music therapy is not recognized or paid for in any way.  By seeking full inclusion, music therapy would be listed as a therapy service option on all types of waivers, both self-directed and traditional — the same as occupational, physical and speech therapies are currently listed.

Several states have created licensure and registries including: Rhode Island, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Nevada, Georgia, New York State and Utah.


Sound means of healing: Music therapy can soothe the sick, both body and soul

MT Article Canada 022813By Sheryl Ubelacker, The Canadian Press –  February 26, 2013

Carolyn Williams sits by five-year-old Katherine Vitorino’s hospital bed, strumming her guitar and singing a medley of songs. This Old Man gives way to Itsy Bitsy Spider, followed by The Lion Sleeps Tonight and Baby Beluga. As she sings the lyrics, Williams pauses to leave a word unsung at the end of a phrase, letting the guitar lapse into silence.