Ode to Joy: Music Therapy Sparks Joy in Alum Therapist and her Patients

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By Emma Wheat ’15

Emma Wheat, 2015 Drury alumna“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”

—Plato

Through my experience as a music therapist, I’ve seen this quote come to life in many different ways. It is truly a pleasure to wake up every morning and be able to use my passion for music to help others. Music therapy is the use of music to reach nonmusical goals, including social, communication, academic, speech, motor and memory.

During my three years as a professional, I’ve worked with a variety of different populations including children and adults with developmental disabilities, older adults with dementia, patients recovering from a stroke or a traumatic brain injury, individuals with a variety of mental health diagnoses and individuals with substance use disorders.

Though, at times, my work has looked like teaching simple life skills – everything from teaching a child to tie his shoes to working with an adult to regain speech after a stroke left her without expressive language – there is a common denominator of seeing joy and happiness produced through music, healing and progress.

Being raised in a family where music was a staple in the house, where every holiday ended with us surrounding the piano and singing, I was aware of the joy and happiness music could bring to our lives. However, as a professional music therapist, I see every day how music brings happiness in both big and small ways.

Joy through music therapy comes in many forms. It’s seeing a child speak their first words in your session. Then it’s seeing the complete and utter joy of a parent hearing their child sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” when they were convinced their child would never speak.

Joy through music therapy is working with a woman who is living in an assisted living community and losing her confidence as she loses her sight and some of her memory.

It’s her husband, glowing and full of confidence as he watches her sit down at the piano to perform for her community at Christmas and bring joy to those living around her.

Joy through music therapy is a group of eight adults with a variety of different developmental disabilities coming together every Tuesday for the past decade. They sing, play instruments, dance and laugh, all while working on social skills in a treatment setting.

Joy through music therapy is a man working on regaining use of his arm and his speech after a fall left him with a traumatic brain injury. It’s watching him play drums and sing. It’s watching him ultimately able to ask his son how he’s doing in the morning or sing along to a few of his favorite songs in the car.

Joy through music therapy is a young man with an intellectual disability learning to play guitar, write his own song about going to high school and become an inspiration for the younger kids. It’s watching him perform at a recital and jump up exclaiming, “I did it!”

Joy through music therapy is a group of individuals in a short-term substance use disorder facility playing a game of Music Jeopardy and showing group cohesion through laughing and joking together. It’s a man explaining to you afterward this is the first time in three years he has laughed without a substance in his body.

I began my music therapy journey at Drury University learning about the eld and working as a practicum student. During this time, I thought I knew the joy and happiness that could come to others. I felt I had a good idea how great a music therapist job could be. However, through my music therapy journey, I’ve had the opportunity to intern for a school district, work full-time at a private practice and now have a full-time position at a behavioral health hospital. It has brought me much more joy and happiness than I could have ever expected.

As a music therapist, I often meet people going through difficult times, but I am able to bring hope, joy, healing, progress and music into their lives when they need it the most.

That is my true joy of music therapy.