Music Therapy uses evidence-based music interventions to address the goals of patients of all ages and their family members while in a medical setting.
Patients may benefit from a new type of program offered at Mass Eye and Ear: Music Therapy.
Launched by the Social Work department, the program includes a grant-funded, board-certified music therapist who uses music interventions to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs for children and adult patients and their families. Focus sat down with Peri Strongwater, MA, MT-BC, to learn more about the program.
What is Music Therapy?
Music Therapy involves using music interventions within a therapeutic relationship between a board-certified music therapist and a patient to support the patient’s treatment goals. It may help to reduce pain, express emotion or bring normalcy to the medical environment. The type of music intervention is tailored to the individual’s wants and needs. Those who require routine visits often benefit from Music Therapy as part of their ongoing treatment.
“I recognize that patients have different styles and so it is my goal to present them with options,” said Peri. “I want them to take ownership and be encouraged by the music we create or utilize together.”
What does the program involve?
At Mass Eye and Ear, Music Therapy sessions are interactive and patient-driven. In working with patients, Peri use interventions such as songwriting, composition, active music-making, improvisation, singing, instrumental play, music listening and lyric analysis to help patients reach their individualized goals.
“Patients have a wide range of physical and mental health needs, and music therapists use information gathered from assessments, research, and the treatment team to determine the music technique that is right for them,” said Peri. “It allows patients to feel empowered and use music as an outlet for self-expression when coping with changes or challenges due to their medical condition.”
Music Therapy can be active, such as singing, or passive, such as listening to music. Peri often brings along her acoustic guitar or ukulele for live music, or uses digital apps to aid in songwriting, beat making or music listening.
What are the benefits?
In medical settings, Music Therapy can:
- Encourage changes in mood and emotional states
- Aid in relaxation and sleep
- Provide opportunities for nonpharmacological management of pain and discomfort
- Increase motivation
- Alleviate fear and anxiety
- Encourage active and positive patient participation in treatment
- Provide motivation and support to reach rehabilitative goals
- Teach healthy long-term coping skills
- Help those with limited family/social supports
“The best part of my job is seeing how music helps someone who isn’t feeling well or eases frustrations of family members,” said Peri. “At a basic level, it’s a great way to regulate breathing during difficult circumstances.”
How does Music Therapy work for patients with hearing or visual impairments?
It is important to understand that hearing-assisted devices are designed to support verbal communication and listening. The mechanics of the devices determine what elements of music work best for the user based on volume, pitch and tempo. Music can also be a powerful way to cope with loss of a sense, such as sight, as it allows people to focus on finding meaning in another way and gives them a sense of control.
“The music intervention depends on the patient’s medical needs, treatment goals, personality and preferences,” said Peri.
Can everyone benefit from some form of Music Therapy in their daily lives?
A virtual nature walk guided by music to transition from day into evening. Music composed and performed by Peri.
Peri explains that music can be valuable to us all, but to keep in mind that in order for it to qualify as Music Therapy, it must be conducted with a board-certified music therapist.
Music, however, is helpful in your daily life through its function and purpose, whether you are unwinding in the car or at home at the end of a long day, or listening to an upbeat playlist while you exercise. The rhythmic component allows you to organize time in a way that supports the task at hand.
Peri also adds that access to music is remarkable right now with all of the available streaming services. “We have more choices and the opportunity to find a community of people who have shared music interests,” she noted.
How can patients participate?
Peri occasionally makes rounds on the inpatient units, but prioritizes patients with social, emotional and behavioral needs based on referrals received from social work, spiritual care, nurses and other departments at Mass Eye and Ear. Sometimes, family members reach out directly on behalf of their loved ones.
Music Therapy is offered to patients in both inpatient and outpatient settings free of charge, but space is limited. If you or someone you know is interested in participating in a session during an upcoming appointment, please email Music_Therapy@meei.harvard.edu to find out more.
About Our Expert
Peri Strongwater, MA, MT-BC is a board-certified music therapist at Mass Eye and Ear, Main Campus (243 Charles Street).