Feb 27, 2023
WITH Miriam Sherk, a board-certified music therapist
Has there ever been a time in your life when you were in a bad mood and you found yourself singing along to a song on the radio and when the song ended, you just felt better? Listening to music, playing an instrument or singing can soothe us mentally and emotionally by reminding us of happier times or comforting memories.
That’s the goal of music therapy; to use music and melodies to connect with or process emotions in a healthy and beneficial manner. Mental health experts are discovering the benefits of music therapy as an alternative to standard therapies of counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy for patients who suffer from depression and anxiety.
Although music therapy is not a cure for depression or anxiety, music is a powerful mood stimulant that can make a big difference in how a patient responds to treatment. Music can bring about positive changes in a patient’s mental and emotional well-being when used in a therapeutic setting.
Music therapy can improve the patient’s ability to communicate and interact with others as well as help the patient develop coping and relaxation skills. For example, the physical act of strumming a guitar or playing the piano is soothing and may temporarily offset feelings of depression and anxiety.
Even if the patient has no prior history of musical ability, music therapy can improve a patient’s concentration and self-confidence. Listening to music also releases dopamine, a feel-good hormone that can induce happy moods or help relieve pain. Using music to improve a patient’s mental or physical state is not new. During World War II, soldiers of war experiencing PTSD or painful physical injuries responded well to traveling musicians who volunteered to play their instruments for wounded veterans. Doctors noted a significant improvement in the patient’s physical and mental condition and as a result, hospitals began to hire these musicians.
In 1944, Michigan State University became the first college in the world to offer a degree program in music therapy. If you would like to hear more about how music can be used in a therapeutic setting to address mental and physical challenges, then you’ll want to listen to Florine’s 2021 interview with Miriam Sherk, a board-certified music therapist and the founder of Ann Arbor Music Therapy.
What You’ll Hear in This Episode:
How Miriam got into music and started playing the bassoon.
What is a Certified Music Therapist?
What goes into the training of a Music Therapist?
Miriam shares her experience of playing in an orchestra.
What inspires Miriam to use music as therapy and to make it her career?
How can music therapy help dementia patients?
How does a music therapist determine what type of treatment is appropriate for the client?
What types of instruments are used in music therapy?
Music has the power to make a real difference in people’s lives. Just listening to music brings a smile to my face and puts me in a better frame of mind. But I’ve also personally experienced how music can help heal us too. Years ago, when I was recovering from surgery, I became allergic to pain medication and instead, I used music to help manage my pain.
Now, when I think of music, I think of all the ways it can literally transform the lives of others! Being able to communicate and feel a connection with others is one of the greatest joys in my life. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for someone who can’t speak or communicate. But if music could help someone express themselves, just think how amazing it would be for that individual and their loved ones!
Using music to unlock communication skills, calm our emotions or trigger memories might be just the beginning of what might be possible. Connecting people through music is what music therapy is all about. Helping a stroke patient who can’t verbalize words but can communicate their thoughts through song is truly a miracle!
We’ve all had times when we struggle and feel depressed or out of sorts. Instead of giving in to our anger or sadness, why not put on some music and dance your cares away? It may not make your problems disappear but I know you’ll feel better! It really worked for me! So go ahead, give yourself the gift of music, and sing or dance as if you’re a star on Broadway!
I’m Florine Mark and that’s “Today’s Takeaway.”
“Something music therapists often speak of is that we give ourselves in a very vulnerable personal way by engaging in music.” — Miriam
“All of us came to music therapy as musicians. It’s what we love, and that’s what we get a lot of joy through.” — Miriam
“The wonderful thing about music therapy training is that it is such a diversified training.” — Miriam
“It's very important for me as the music therapist, not to be prescriptive about music, but to assess what music is most engaging, most connecting and connected to their own lives in a meaningful way.” — Miriam
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