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Debbi K.

Healthcare Professional

Music Therapy...Something Beautiful out of Something Devastating

Upon rounding, I was introduced to a fifty-two year old male who was admitted following a stroke. The patient was experiencing tremendous physical impairment of the left side of his body. Emotionally, he was devastated. He, being a father, husband and a carpenter was the sole provider of the household. This event had changed his life, career and emotional state of being. I looked into the eyes of our patient, and it was clear he was feeling as if his world had been shattered with this devastating event. His marked depression was evident to the nursing team. He was resistant to physical therapy interventions because he was so angry. He stated, “Why work with an arm that does not work?” I watched his 15-year-old son, Jake, in the room now struggling with how to interact with his father. Jake, trying to be helpful, began to attempt to take care of his father. The father being very resistant and angry became distant. Jake had no idea how to deal with his dad’s physical and emotional state of being. Every time the son or wife attempted to do something for their father, he would yell. Depression, after an event such as a stroke, is catastrophic. Our music therapist was rounding and an opportunity arose for a nursing intervention.  

Originating before the written word and perhaps even before language, music has a long, complex history. Evidence of music and musical instruments has been found in every culture. While its purpose, theme and sound have certainly changed throughout time, its appeal has not. In today’s society, music serves as an outlet of expression and art, as a form of communication and entertainment and, for many, as a source of therapy.

Music therapy uses music and music interventions to help patients and their families better cope with illness and hospitalization. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, "...a music bath... is to the soul what the water bath is to the body." Music therapy is used to address patients’ physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs. It can have a significant positive impact on the overall health and mental well-being of persons dealing with a variety of conditions. Music therapy enhances the quality of life for patients and caregivers, as well as gives families an opportunity to share time together in a positive, creative way.  

Consulting music therapy seemed to be a start. The musical therapist has an array of items on her cart of various musical instruments. Probably the most popular are the drums. The son spotted the drums and chuckled regarding how he always is tapping and rapping in the house and it drives his father crazy. His dad repeatedly tells him to stop banging on everything. Jake reported he tapped on the tables, walls and especially in the car. The son responded, “It’s in my blood. I love music.” Noticing how his son was having trouble relating to his dad, music therapy was the interaction they needed. As the drums entered the room with the therapist, the son responded. It became the therapy to encourage his dad to use his weak side. The son became very interactive in displaying how he would aggravate his dad. His father found it in himself to laugh. The son encouraged his dad to try and help him make a rhythmic beat on the drums. Our patient began his therapy through his son with the drums. The patient said after the therapist left, “The music and drums broke my stress. I am dealing with a lot of anger. I didn’t know how I was going to interact with my family and it was as simple as the beat to a drum.” A connection of therapy for our patient and his son came from beating to the rhythmic sounds of the drum. What happened in the room became a common bond that relaxed both of them, encouraged laughter and provided therapy to a weak side of the body. We now started healing the mind and body.  

Our music therapist reports that music therapy is instrumental in the physical and emotional healing of our patients, family members, and staff. Music therapy can provide unique opportunities to create something beautiful out of something devastating. However, I think nothing can express the power of music more than patients who have experienced it: 

“Music has brought a smile to our faces when sadness was all around.”

“Music made me forget about everything that was going on at the hospital for a while and let me think about happier things. It makes you forget about your pain and lets you feel good.”  

Every music therapist has a wealth of stories about a musical moment mixed with a clinical moment. It is when art and science create awareness, an accomplishment and a breakthrough. The power and effect of music therapy can build understanding as it relates to total mind and body healing. It has been invigorating to witness the power of music therapy to those that we serve. Music therapists play an important role in helping patients cope with the effects of illness, pain, loneliness and fearful apprehension about the future of their health. 

Witnessing healing of both mind and body lead to a huge opportunity for our patients at Norton Brownsboro Hospital. Staff education began in all areas, especially in our stroke population, on the impact and benefits for alternative therapy, especially music. When a patient is admitted with the diagnosis of a stroke, a patient notification is sent out to key members of the healthcare team. Our music therapist receives this notification as well. As part of a multidisciplinary team approach, we see the patient and family in our aspects of healing their mind and body. Music therapy is an integral part of our team approach.    

“Music speaks what cannot be expressed, soothes the mind and gives it rest, heals the heart and makes it whole, flows from heaven to the soul.” Anonymous


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Display of the Faces of Stroke stories does not imply National Stroke Association's endorsement of any product, treatment, service or entity. National Stroke Association strongly recommends that people ask a healthcare professional about diagnosis and treatment questions before using any product, treatment or service. The views expressed through the stories reflect those of the authors and do not reflect the opinion of National Stroke Association.

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