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Therapy program uses music to meet rehab goals

January 14, 2014

Craig Hospital boasts many unique therapy options, but only one that uses Beyoncé , the Beatles and Beethoven to meet rehabilitation goals.

The donor-funded Music Therapy program, under the direction of Sarah Thompson, uses the neuroscience of music to help individuals with spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries make clinical strides in areas ranging from breath control to regulation of attention and gait patterns.

“We know so much about how the brain and body respond to rhythm, melody, and harmony,” says Thompson. “Music is so flexible; we are able to use it to our advantage to meet needs of our patients.”

Craig’s Music Therapy program started in 2010 as a pilot project with five patients and transitioned to full program in 2011.

Patients are referred to Thompson by their doctor, and she works as part of the patient’s therapy team to determine what skills need to be developed. She meets with patients up to three times a week for one-half to one hour one-on-one sessions.

Thompson designs the activities for each individual. A session might involve reaching for a tambourine or playing a drum to get an arm moving, singing exercises to help with breath control and projection, or walking in time with the rhythm of an autoharp. She uses the individual’s preferred style of music.

“One day I’ll play Rihanna for one patient, then switch to Frank Sinatra for another,” she says. “”When I bring in music that they enjoy, they engage and really focus on what we’re doing.”

Elias Marmon, who received a TBI and SCI in a work-related accident, has been playing percussion instruments to work on his attention, his ability to block out distractions and remember instructions.

“He might be playing and stopping with me, listening for certain sounds, and ignoring other sounds. We use the instruments as a way for him to show me that he is paying attention, which is a baseline skill for learning, memory and decision making” says Thompson. She says that the music gets Marmon into a more positive and focused mindset to work on these challenging tasks.

“Music therapy is something I really enjoy,” says Marmon. “To me, music is very soothing and it’s a big part of my therapy.”

Thompson sees patients with all levels of previous musical ability. Her favorite thing is seeing patients who are hesitant or skeptical begin to understand how this therapy can help them.

“I’m not trying to turn them into musicians,” she says. “It’s all about using the modality of music to help patients walk, talk, and return to the very best life possible.”

Learn more about Music Therapy at Craig Hospital.