by Jameela I. Mendoza | Feature Writer
The words “music therapy” sounds like your go-to playlist after a stressful day at school. Music therapy sounds like the song you wrote when your heart got broken. Music therapy sounds like Mozart or lo-fi hip-hop beats to help you focus on studying. It sounds easy enough to do on your own because it sounds like the fulfillment of something that comes naturally with music.
Music therapy, however, is so much more than the use of music to accompany the highs and lows of our lives. It is a real health care profession practiced by board-certified music therapists.
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 who has completed an approved music therapy program.”
In Silliman University (SU), this professional goes by the name of Danielle Zamar.
Danielle teaches music therapy, one of the new courses offered at the SU College of Performing and Visual Arts starting this school year.
Equipped with her guitar, Danielle simplified what music therapy does through a song she wrote. “It’s an established health profession that uses music to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, (and) social needs of individuals,” she sang.
Though she has never been a client of music therapy herself, Danielle said songwriting has always helped her communicate. Improving communication is one of the many aspects where music therapy intervention can be designed for.
“Design” is a keyword in understanding music therapy because a music therapist’s approach to each client is personalized. Music therapists assess clients to match their specific needs.
WHO ARE THE CLIENTS?
Clients have cognitive, communication, psychological, educational, social, or physiological needs that are enhanced or prevented through music therapy.
Music therapists usually work with clients in a specific group or population, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), military populations, mental health, Alzheimer’s Disease, response to crisis and trauma, young children, among others.
These populations have different needs that are addressed in a variety of ways in music therapy. For example, Danielle said a person with stroke who is struggling to walk can practice repetitive or rhythmic movements to help promote physical rehabilitation. On the other hand, a patient that will undergo medical treatment can use music as tool for pain distraction. A person struggling with a mental disorder can write songs for self-expression or stress management.
Music therapy meets clients’ needs to achieve these non-musical goals.
The kind of music used for music therapy also depends on these goals.
“It’s different per person because the goals differ individually…For example, the goal of my client is to increase verbal expression…so I do songs with [basic] syllables to prompt them to do those syllables,” she said.
What exactly happens in a music therapy session?
Danielle said that in a session, they sing or write songs, analyze lyrics, dance, play instruments or games through music, and several other activities.
While this all seems like fun and games, music therapy isn’t about entertainment. To harness the power of music in developing healthy coping skills and strategies, aspiring music therapists must be knowledgeable in psychology, music and nursing.
In music therapy, there is no competition or show of musical abilities. While a music therapist should at least be able to carry a tune, or play at least one instrument, Danielle said “there is no right or wrong (in music therapy) because your contribution is already right in itself.”
MUSIC THERAPY IN THE PH
In the Philippines, music therapy is still an emerging field. Currently, the Professional Regulation Commission has no professional regulatory board for music therapy. Danielle got her board certification in the U.S. after graduating from Shenandoah University where she studied music therapy.
SU is the first outside Manila and the second university in the country that offers music therapy as a course, the first being St. Paul University (SPU) Manila.
Since there are only a few board-certified music therapists like Danielle in the country, music therapy can be quite costly, especially since the pay comes per session.
“[Clients] have to pay consistently for the therapy to be therapy; it’s not just a one-time thing,” said Danielle, who still works as a private music therapist. As of now, she has seven clients, who are mostly children; the youngest being three years old while the oldest is 26.
WHY MUSIC THERAPY
Michamiel Serrato used to be a medical technology student in Cebu. He has always wanted to pursue music, but his parents disapproved. The music therapy program was like the answer to Michamiel’s prayers—a harmony of medicine and music. He decided to take the leap and move to Dumaguete. Now, he is one of the first music therapy students in SU. What used to be just a hobby can now be in Michamiel’s future career.
For Danielle, her interest in music therapy started similarly to Michamiel’s; she grew up musically inclined and was forced to take up nursing in college, but her love for music peeked its way through her career as a registered nurse until she decided to study music therapy.
During her time as a student in the U.S., she assisted a depressed veteran along with a team in a hospice where she had her internship. The veteran was admitted to the hospice as he had about six months left to live. At first, the veteran was skeptic about music therapy and refused the team’s efforts, but the team decided to try again and again, until it became something that the veteran would look forward to.
At the end of Danielle’s internship, she was approached by one of the team members who was in tears. It was revealed to her that the veteran was discharged from the hospice, and that music therapy made a difference in helping extend the veteran’s life.
This is why music therapy sounds so familiar: because music therapy sounds like each time people find strength in difficult situations and the calm in every storm. Music therapists help bring out these abilities within people. Beyond the entertainment aspect, one side of music that is yet to be properly acknowledged in the Philippines is the fact that music heals—literally.