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Music therapy 'reveals the creativity in people'

Music therapy 'reveals the creativity in people'
1st June 2009

Health professionals are always seeking new ways to treat people who have a disability and music therapy is just one way to help improve quality of life for people living with conditions such as dementia or physical illness.

Music therapy is a registered health profession and is based on the theory that everyone can respond to melodies, whether they have musical skills and experience or not. The treatment accesses the parts of the person that are still active, able and creative through singing or playing instruments with the help of a trained music therapist.

Sessions are run for between 20 to 40 minutes and are usually held weekly, involving either an individual or small groups. Participants typically have access to a range of percussion instruments and a keyboard or piano and music is improvised or created together.

It is believed that music therapy can have a multitude of benefits, including promoting self-esteem and autonomy, encouraging spontaneity and creativity, reducing anxiety and agitation, enabling relaxation and, perhaps most importantly, creating joy and pleasure.

Barchester Healthcare has teamed up with the UK-based Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy charity, which provides training, treatment and research in this discipline and has centres in Germany, New York, Australia and South America.

The unique collaboration aims to promote and support music therapy within Barchester homes, nurture musical communication throughout the organisation's care services and contribute new research to the field.

Stuart Wood, head music therapist with the Barchester Nordoff-Robbins Initiative (BNRI), asserts that he has seen the power of music with people first-hand.

"First, as a teenager I played in church a lot, and learned how to help large numbers of people become 'as one' through singing.

"Second, when I was teaching music in the States, and later in Singapore, I saw how individuals were transformed when someone believed in them, and moulded music around them or within them," he explains.

Mr Wood first became involved with Barchester in late 2002 when he was invited to run a pilot project at a home which was funded by Nordoff-Robbins Outreach. He continued to visit the facility twice a week and after two months, decided to stay. This was the birth of BNRI.

In his current post at Chalfont Lodge care home, he has worked with a wide range of people, including people with Alzheimer's, Dementia and those with neurological conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis or the effects of a stroke.

"Music, however, takes you straight past the diagnosis and reveals all the life and creativity that people still have," he asserts.

Mr Wood continues: "Music therapy involves coming alongside people and sharing music-making. It's incredibly collaborative."

"When you make music with someone, you get the best of them. That might include unexpected encounters with a person who has been isolated and 'locked away' by dementia, or it might mean that someone can use their arms more purposefully after a stroke," he adds.

"We also have amazing staff who can join in, support, witness or facilitate a resident's music. It's an enormous privilege to do this kind of thing," Mr Wood concludes.