By Trent Barrick, MT-BC, Neurologic Music Therapist

“We rarely hear the inward music, but we’re all dancing to it nevertheless.” – Rumi

Ralph sat in his car attempting to open the driver side door. One would assume this wouldn’t pass as a difficult obstacle for a strong Firefighter/Paramedic like Ralph. Moments before, however, a motor vehicle accident propelled and flipped Ralph’s car mid-air, leaving Ralph awake and motionless with a cervical spinal cord injury. “It was like my brain was telling my arms to move and they just sat there.” Within hours, Ralph was rescued from the car and taken immediately to the hospital, learning that his condition would require extensive surgeries and therapies.

My first conversation with Ralph was raw. He discussed the frustrations and disappointment over his weakened frame. He recalled his time in intensive care, gaining some movement in his arms, but still lacking control. We met up again in fine motor group later that day. He attempted to place wooden pegs in a peg board with much difficulty. To my surprise, when I introduced music therapy during the group, Ralph openly accepted an adapted instrument. He told the group he was never a musician, but was open to play along to the rhythm of one of his favorite songs, “Chicken Fried” by the Zac Brown Band. In that moment, I knew I connected with him. I saw a different affect and a different interaction from him in the group. I thought to myself, “this might be hope.”

The relationship I developed with Ralph over the next couple of weeks was significant. Each day I noticed his overall level of frustration declining. He was entitled to his “bad days,” but he grew quickly in a new found determintation to get stronger. Ralph also found joy in playing a drum called the djembe. He saideverytime I play this, I can feel the blood in my hands again. I get tired quickly, but it’s a good exercise and I want to get better.”

Weeks before Ralph left the in-patient rehab, he began asking for one-on-one music therapy sessions working exclusively with the djembe. Many times Ralph kept the drum over the weekend to practice for the upcoming fine motor groups. When Ralph’s firefighter/paramedic friends came to visit, they often joined him in active music making in his room and during groups. His friends were excited that in music therapy, they could bond with Ralph in a new, fun way, and take part in enhancing his quality of life while in the hospital.

Ralph recently “graduated” the in-patient rehab after receiving amazing therapies and services from several incredible therapists spanning many different disciplines. The once frustrated and weak Ralph was again able to walk confidently and independently, grasp small objects, and play djembe like a pro. Music therapy played a small, but significant part in the large picture of a Ralph’s road to recovery, as it does for all who receive music therapy services here at Memorial.

Ralph found success during music therapy, as many do. For those wondering what music therapy entails, an excerpt from the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) explains that “clinical music therapy is the only professional, research-based discipline that actively applies supportive science to the creative, emotional, and energizing experiences of music for health treatment and educational goals.” AMTA has further published some few important facts about music therapy and the credentialed music therapists who practice it:

  • Music therapists must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from one of AMTA’s 72 approved colleges and universities, including 1200 hours of clinical training.
  • Music therapists must hold the MT-BC credential, issued through the Certification Board for Music Therapists, which protects the public by ensuring competent practice and requiring continuing education. Some states also require licensure for board-certified music therapists.
  • Music Therapy is an evidence-based health profession with a strong research foundation.
  • Music Therapy degrees require knowledge in psychology, medicine, and music.

These examples of therapeutic music are noteworthy, but are not clinical music therapy:

  • A person with Alzheimer’s listening to an iPod with headphones of his/her favorite songs

  • Groups such as Bedside Musicians, Musicians on Call, Music Practitioners, Sound Healers, and Music Thanatologists
  • Celebrities performing at hospitals and/or schools
  • A piano player in the lobby of a hospital
  • Nurses playing background music for patients
  • Artists in residence
  • Arts educators
  • A high school student playing guitar in a nursing home
  • A choir singing on the pediatric floor of a hospital

If you find a music therapist with the MT-BC credential, stop and ask them about their profession! We almost always have a good story to share about how music has helped transformed the lives of our patients and families!