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5 Non-musical Ways Music Therapists Enhance Quality of Life for Residents in Care Facilities

*This post is from the former, Harmonia Music Therapy

As we are on the last day of Music Therapy Awareness Month, I wanted to share some real world experiences of being a certified music therapist (MTA) in a care facility. As music therapy is about helping individuals reach non-musical goals, there are non-musical ways that music therapists enhance the spaces they work in.

This may sound strange and you may be thinking, “What? I thought music therapists only did music?”, but this is not true! Yes, music therapists provide quality music therapy sessions for residents, receive referrals, complete assessments, create care plans, document progress, and have a consistent caseload, but that is not all. There is so much more going on in the little moments and behind the scenes when a music therapist is working a care facility! These are some reflections from my experience working in long term care, but could be applied to any other care facility, like a hospital or complex continuing care.

***Every music therapist has their own style and personality they bring to their work. These are my personal observations and do not reflect the thoughts or ideas of all music therapists, but rather describe some details most don’t take in to consideration when thinking about music therapy in a facility.

Read on to learn more!

5 Non-musical Ways Music Therapists Enhance Quality of Life for Residents in Care Facilities

  1. Noticing the little things As healthcare workers, music therapists can recognize when residents have a shift in cognition or medical status, but also, as compassionate and caring individuals we notice the things that aren’t documented. Like if a resident is cold - we can get them a blanket or sweater; help a resident who may find it challenging to turn round a corner in their wheelchair; direct residents to the dining room for lunch; assist with mealtime service. The little things that residents may have challenges with while not receiving direct care.

  2. Trust Residents receiving weekly visits from a music therapist are able to develop a therapeutic relationship which is founded on trust. Music therapists provide a non-judgemental space where a resident can share whatever is on their mind, that they may not necessarily share with friends, family, or other caregivers in the facility. This sharing may happen during session, or more casually, as the music therapist is helping the resident get back to their room or the TV lounge after a session.

  3. Communication With consent from the client, music therapists can communicate client concerns with other members of the care team or management. This could be what is involved in their care or something unrelated like a picture needing hanging in their room or connecting the resident with volunteer services. For residents who are non-verbal, the music therapist may be able to pick up on the subtle ways the resident presents these concerns, due to being in tune with the resident’s feelings during sessions.

  4. Creating beautiful spaces Music therapists are aware of the environment around the sessions they will facilitate. The goal during session is to create a therapeutic environment, which means, that even if it takes a bit longer, bringing residents to an area of their unit that provides peace and calm. This could be an area away from conversations or meetings that may be taking place in the nursing station, away from passersby, or an area close to a window where plants are growing. Music therapists take in to consideration the way residents face during sessions and who they are sitting next to. Of course, this is if residents are able to leave their rooms. During a bedside session, music therapists will still aim to create as beautiful an environment as possible, and this can often be simply through beginning to strum the guitar and singing, “hello”.

  5. A happy face Music therapists put effort in to being a bright light in care facilities. You never know the impact a quick smile from a friendly face can have on a resident who may be feeling lonely or isolated, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic (even if it’s through a mask and goggles). Healthcare workers and staff go to great lengths to provide excellent care, but, through no fault of their own, are often strapped for time to have enough quality interactions with residents. Music therapists provide extra support by being another caring face and having quick interactions with residents who may not even be on their caseload, while walking through the hallways or riding the elevator. Research has shown that it’s regular, casual interactions with strangers that greatly impact our well being i.e. the quick conversation with the barista at the coffee shop, saying hello to the person you always see in your condo building. For residents in care facilities, this could be a worker or volunteer they may not necessarily have long visits with, but someone they always say hello to.

As you can see, there is so much more going on than music when music therapists are present at a care facility. Music therapists are always aiming to enhance care of individuals in any way they can. I acknowledge, applaud, and thank all health care workers, who help the lives of so many!


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