Music can be incredibly therapeutic. Whether it's keeping us from road rage during rush hour traffic, helping us fall asleep, or uniting us with others as we sing along at a concert, music has a certain unique healing power.
Locally, the Windsor Senior Living facility in Dallas uses music to help people with Alzheimer's disease recall old memories. But music therapy can be helpful to people of all ages. Children's Medical Center Dallas, which has the largest music therapy program in DFW, even utilizes music therapy for the newborns in its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy consists of "using music therapeutically to address physical, psychological, cognitive and/or social functioning for patients of all ages." It's used to help patients manage stress, alleviate pain, enhance memory, improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation.
Southern Methodist University is one of only about 59 accredited music therapy schools in the country, and one of only six such schools in Texas. Dr. Robert Krout, the Director of Music Therapy at SMU, says that music therapy, which became a recognized profession in 1950, has especially taken off in hospitals, for both adults and children, in the last twenty years.
Children's, which was the first hospital in Dallas to offer music therapy in the mid-'90s, now has four music therapists, who specialize in different areas. The hospital believes in a holistic therapy that's designed to improve a patient's physical, psychological and emotional health, and music therapy plays a significant role on the psychological and emotional side of things.
Lisa Jones, who's been with Children's for about 15 years, is the Music Therapy Team Supervisor and specializes in oncology and grief counseling. While music therapy is similar in some ways to traditional therapy, Jones noted that "music is a great catalyst for the therapy, especially with children because there's so many things that it can accomplish. Kids will open up in a different way when there's music involved." For instance, songwriting, Jones says, can get children to say and write things that they may not have discussed with a traditional therapist.
The average patient typically participates in music therapy about two or three days a week for 30 minutes to an hour. Therapy can involve a variety of activities, including singing, playing instruments, writing songs, making videos, or just listening and talking about song lyrics.
Growing up, Jones loved singing and playing the French horn, but didn't plan to pursue music therapy until her senior year in college. While earning her B.A. in music education, she taught a girl, who, until she was able to get a cochlear implant, had been deaf her entire life, to speak in a more natural way through voice lessons. "In doing that," Jones explained, "I became interested in using music to help people rather than just to teach music."
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In addition to singing and playing the French horn, she also plays piano and guitar, as is required of all music therapists. Outside of her work, Jones sings on the praise team at her church, First United Methodist in Grapevine.
Krout became involved with music therapy in 1978, while he was enrolled for a master's degree in music education. After taking an intro to music therapy class as an elective, he fell in with the field immediately. By 1980, he had his first full-time job as a credentialed music therapist. He's currently teaching and practicing music therapy as well as giving guitar lessons, both regular and adapted/therapeutic.
But for Krout, music isn't just his job. He's played guitar for almost 50 years and has been a singer-songwriter since he was in high school. "That is still an important part of my life," Krout says. "Songwriting is my therapy."