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Music therapy builds skills, confidence

Thursday, December 21, 2023

​Music therapist Corinne sits at a keyboard and begins the chords to the hope-filled song “You Will be Found” from the Broadway musical, “Dear Evan Hansen.” 

The room of singers softly join her in the first lines: Have you ever felt like nobody was there? Have you ever felt forgotten in the middle of nowhere? Their voices grow stronger as they reach the refrain and join in together: Lift your head and look around … You will be found …You will be found. 

This time together is about more than the music.

“It’s a therapeutic space,” Corinne said. “This provides a safe space to work through frustration or other issues.” 

She is one of 11 music therapists at Oregon State Hospital who works with patients one-on-one and in group sessions to help them achieve their non-musical goals through their interest in music. 

“Everyone has an experience with music they like to talk about, and it becomes a vehicle to talk about emotions,” Corinne said. “It helps break down barriers and serves as our pathway to therapy.” 

As a clinical and evidence-based practice, music therapy uses musical interventions – songwriting, learning a new song, playing an instrument or even just listening to music – to help patients reach their personal non-musical goals. Whether it’s developing coping skills or resilience, the benefits of music therapy are specific to the patient. Research shows this type of therapy can help relieve stress, help express and regulate emotions and improve cognitive ability and overall wellness.  

For Cass, music is a way to connect with her emotions. 

“It’s a way to speak from the inside out,” she said. “It’s a good way to get out of a funk and get out of hard times and have fun. I don’t think I would be as far along as I am if I didn’t have a way to express myself like this.” 

Cass recently performed at an open mic event organized by the OSH music therapy program. 

Cass has participated in music therapy at OSH for about a year and a half and credits it with helping her focus on her goals – earning her GED and preparing to transition back into the community. 

Cass is a regular during open mic events at the hospital organized by OSH music therapist, Rob. During a recent open mic, Cass sang Jewel’s “Hands” and other patients shared their talents at blues guitar, improvisational flute and karaoke sing-along favorites. 

The events, and group therapy activities like choir and band, enable patients to be part of a group. It also creates a sense of community and helps prepare them for life outside the hospital. 

“Many people may associate going out and listening to music or being in a band with substance use or alcohol,” Rob said. “Part of this is giving them an opportunity to do these things they enjoy sober in a sober environment. They can see, ‘I don’t need to smoke to be in a band or drink to do karaoke.’”  

Rob and Corinne shared experiences of music therapy helping patients improve memory and sharpen skills to help them meet their recovery goals.  

“For a patient with a traumatic brain injury, we worked on learning how to read piano music – a skill that utilizes the left and right sides of the brain simultaneously. It has helped with cognition, attention skills, and improved impulse control,” Corinne said. 

Rob said he enjoys being able to work with patients and see the impact of their work in music therapy. 

“It brings them a sense of enjoyment and purpose. It shows them they can overcome challenges, gain skills and make progress,” Rob said. 

OSH music therapist, Rob, takes a break during songs at a recent open mic event. ​

In her group choir class, Corinne has seen some self-confidence boosted in patients who are working to overcome challenges in their recovery journey. 

“Everyone’s voice is so personal so to be willing to open your mouth and sing, it’s one of the most emotive ways to express yourself. Learning how to control your voice while singing different parts of a song helps with confidence and working as a team to accomplish a greater goal,” Corinne said. 

Cass recently recorded a CD of nursery rhymes and original songs she’d sing with her children as a surprise holiday gift for them. For her older children, she hopes it becomes a keepsake, and for the younger ones, a way she can sing with them.  

The project is about more than the music; it’s a way to rebuild her connection with her children, Cass said. 

“Working on the recording has been therapeutic for me and gives me another way to reach out to them when I can’t be there right now,” she said. “It’s hard to be here without them.” 


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