Sounding the Right Note – Caring for Ourselves through Music

Music Therapy Conference at The Center for Discovery

“If there was ever a need on our planet to learn more about caring – this is the time,” said TCFD President, Dr. Terry Hamlin, in her opening remarks to the 2022 Music Therapy conference, “I hope the lessons learned today will reach far and wide.  We have such a need to better care for people and care for ourselves in our world today.”

Dr. Hamlin and the rest of the conference speakers hit all the right notes during the in-person and virtual spring conference called “Caring for Yourself and Caring for Community: Enhancing Emotional Health and Wellbeing through Music Therapy.”

Katie Down, Director of Sound Well Creative Arts Therapy and Instructor at SUNY New Paltz, began the morning by examining stress reduction and the critical tool of listening.  She stressed the importance of including the 3 Cs (creativity, caring, compassion) in every Music Therapy session – whether in a classroom, with clients, or with friends and family.  She then taught everyone how to learn to – and practice – listening deeply to ourselves and others.

Down was followed by TCFD Senior Director of Music Therapy, Conio Loretto, who was the driving force behind this important conference. He outlined the many ways The Center’s Music Therapy team has leveraged music to improve health and wellbeing in our homes, classrooms, and across campus.  He included the new RESST program (Relaxation through Sound, Stretching, Storytelling and Tactile Input), a mealtime program, and pop-up concerts with our own “Travelling Troubadours.”

RESST was developed by the Music Therapy (MT) team in collaboration with occupational therapists, expressive art therapists and other specialists “with the thought of improving sleep health overall for one person or a group,” Loretto said, and added that it was trialed in a residence with medically fragile adults who simultaneously started an adapted exercise program. “67% of individuals showed improvement in number of hours of sleep,” he reported – a critical improvement for individuals with complex conditions who often suffer from sleep issues.

He also spoke about another key time – mealtimes. The Mealtime Music Therapy program at The Center has become a staple of the MT Department. The results of this work are astounding.

“What we found was that music has the ability to affect – yes the environment – but also the body, mind, and spirit of the individuals who are eating. Our bodies automatically line up or sync with the pulse of the music we are listening to.  This is called entrainment.  And as our bodies entrain, our physiological functions line up with the basic pulse or beat of that music.  So our respiration, our heart rate, everything begins to line up,” said Loretto. “What happens is the rate of eating slows down. So whether someone is eating themselves or they are being assisted – being fed by someone else, by putting on the right kind of music – it can slow down the rate, thereby decreasing the chances of things like choking and aspiration.”

Loretto described in detail the roles of Environmental Music Therapy and the Therapist: “A Music Therapist will improvise music in order to meld the sounds into one seamless musical landscape.  Any distracting or overpowering sounds in the environment become part of the music.  The Music Therapist listens very closely to the sounds in the environment but also pays attention to the behaviors and the people in the environment in order to create the music.  The music engages with all of these elements.”

TCFD Music Therapist, Rebecca Erson, spoke about the clinical use of Sound Healing techniques in individual and group sessions using instruments like the harp, crystal singing bowls, gongs, tuning forks, and more. Erson said 96% of staff members reported stress-reducing benefits ranging from only moderate tension to being very relaxed after a session, and 79% reported a calming of the mind.

Rounding out the day was Carly Caprioli and Shawna Vernisie, Music Therapists at Northwell Health’s Cohen Children’s Medical Center on New York’s Long Island.  They highlighted their efforts to use live Environmental Music Therapy and “Positivity Parades” to improve the wellness of their staff and patients during the pandemic.

“We found that Music Therapy is a feasible and personal intervention with huge impacts into the wellness of healthcare workers…feeling heard, validated, and supported,” Vernisie said.

We hope if you didn’t get a chance to watch the conference live, you’ll click on the link. We think everyone can agree that the sounds you will hear are sounds of progress. View the conference here: https://bit.ly/TCFDMusicTherapy2022.

For more information on the conference or Music Therapy at The Center, please reach out to IntegratedArts@tcfd.org.