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Hitting the Right Notes

Hitting the Right Notes

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Q&A with a Northwestern Medicine Music Therapist

At Northwestern Medicine, one of the most advanced programs of its kind is giving rise to notable clinical results. Music therapy has been making headlines lately for its ability to stimulate areas in the brain that are hard to reach—and Northwestern Medicine has been leading the field for nearly ten years.

“Music therapy can be used to increase a patient’s recovery potential. When research-based music therapy techniques are used in the clinical setting, the results can be truly amazing,” says Stephanie Kleba, a Northwestern Medicine music therapist. “The past decade has seen the rise in research supporting the value of music therapy in rehabilitation, leading to a new sub-specialty field: neurologic music therapy.”

Kleba directs the Music Therapy Program and supervises a team who works with a number of Northwestern Medicine groups, including Delnor Hospital, Central DuPage Hospital, Northwestern Hospice group, and Behavioral Health Services. They also provide support groups, such as Resilient Rhythms, a neurologic music therapy support group, at Central DuPage Hospital. Kishwaukee Hospice provides music therapy services as well.

What is music therapy?

According to 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. The manipulation of specific musical characteristics, like melody, volume, tonality and rhythm, can support anxiety reduction, decrease perception of pain, manage stress, and improve communication.

Music therapists fine-tune these aspects based on clinical expertise and individual patient needs. Certain types of music can help us organize information, and familiar tunes tap into old memories helping us recall lyrics and trigger emotions. Sharing musical experiences can strengthen patient/therapist bonds.

Does music therapy support memory and learning?

Music therapists frequently see clients with neurologic impairments, such as stroke, brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, etc., as well as many people dealing with memory loss. Often, to the surprise of family and friends, these patients respond to music therapy by recalling, and singing word-for-word lyrics to favorite old tunes during sessions. It’s amazing to see, when the patients might not be able to remember words otherwise. Brain studies show that when a patient engages in musical activity, the entire brain lights up.

Music therapists also see the value of using music – specifically singing – in partnership with the learning of new material and relearning tasks. Music therapy motivates patients to organize and accomplishing goals. An excellent example of learning a long segment of information through singing – i.e., the alphabet to the familiar tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

Who can music therapy help?

We are seeing research and work with patients suffering from many different disorders, so we would not rule any condition out. Music therapists address physical, emotional, social, and cognitive needs and communication. We see a variety of ages and backgrounds: premature infants; children with autism, as well as learning disabilities and/or physical limitations; adults with disorders of consciousness; patients suffering pain or emotional needs, such as anxiety and depression; end-stage dementia; and people in hospice care. We are seeing some amazing progress for stroke patients experiencing expressive aphasia, because of music’s ability to support communication through Melodic Intonation Therapy. You don’t have to sing or love music to benefit. If you are open and interested in enhancing therapeutic outcomes, then music therapy may be helpful.

How often do you see patients for music therapy?

Music therapists assess each individual’s strengths and needs, develop goals, and plan sessions accordingly. We see our patients based on needs, but sometimes frequency is dictated by schedules. Typically, we try to visit two or three times per week in the hospitals, and we try to visit weekly or every other week for hospice clients in their residences. The mental health groups are offered weekly, but we have been considering increasing the frequency due to growing needs.

What makes the Music Therapy Program at Northwestern Medicine successful?

I supervise an outstanding team of professionals, passionate about leading our field though evidence-based practice. The Music Therapy Program, established in 2007 at Delnor Hospital, was carefully developed. In 2013, we began growing and adding more music therapists with specific clinical specialties to meet the growing patient populations.

What does the future hold for the Music Therapy Program at Northwestern Medicine?

In an effort to continue supporting research in the field of music therapy, our team is working with Wendy Magee, PhD, an associate professor of music therapy at Temple University. Magee and a team of researchers have developed a Music Therapy assessment tool called the MATADOC. This assessment tool focuses heavily on engaging the patient’s auditory system, and provides key information in evaluating awareness states for patients with conditions where awareness has been compromised due to brain damage or cognitive deficit. We are looking forward to a continuing partnership with Dr. Magee in the future.

To learn more about music therapy at Northwestern Medicine, reach out to Stephanie at 630.750.0670.