Music Therapy Awareness Month

Highlighting the many benefits of music therapy

 A composite photo shows Music Therapist Daiva smiling while holding a guitar, and in the top and bottom photos on the left, patient Bryan and Daiva can be seeing playing the melodica and singing together

Some mornings, if you happen to pass by West Park’s Snoezelen room, you might hear the faint sounds of someone jamming on the kazoo. Inside is the power of music therapy at work.

During a session, patient Brian Carballo enjoys music in a myriad of ways, including singing and playing instruments such as the kazoo and the melodica. At its surface he is enjoying music, but the benefits are multi-faceted and based on specific goals. The kazoo isn’t just for fun, it’s functional.

Music therapist Daiva Zemaitis visits West Park once a week to work with patients on achieving their goals. For Carballo, it pertains to his speech.

“Using certain instruments can be a neurologic music therapy technique to target oral motor muscles and skills,” Zemaitis says.“The kazoo uses all of the muscles and all of the functions needed to produce speech, so a kazoo is really great for someone who needs to rehabilitate their speech.”

For Carballo, it helps to exercise those muscles while using his voice, and along with singing, it can help his speech be clearer afterwards.

“Music therapy is goal-directed but we’re also meeting with patients in the moment too. Sometimes goals go out the window and emotions are running and it’s like ‘alright, what’s going on?’” Zemaitis says.

There are instruments for every occasion – for some, drumming can help with range of motion, while for others, singing can help individuals who have difficulties with speech.

At West Park, an important part of music therapy for patients with complex needs is actually music-listening.

“Patients just love the aspect of choice-making and the power of setting this special time to call all the shots and make all the choices. During music listening they might sing along or talk about feelings that are coming up,” Zemaitis says.

For those that need another outlet for those feelings, Zemaitis also works with some patients on song-writing, which can be an important emotional outlet that helps reconnect patients to an important sense of self. The patient will write all of the lyrics themselves, with Zemaitis offering ideas for the music, but ultimately the patient makes all the choices, with the final masterpiece being composed in GarageBand together.

“When someone lives in a facility and they have a lot of complex needs or they receive a diagnosis and their whole life changes, it can be really hard, and they can lose that connection to themself,” Zemaitis says.

“So I’m really grateful to hopefully offer an opportunity to connect to themselves and bring some of that back for them.”