Temple music therapy majors discuss healing through music

Music therapy majors discuss how and why they use music to help others.

Living with Tourette’s syndrome can come with surprises, like unexpected and unstoppable tics in conversations. 

But for Tommy Licato, a sophomore music therapy major who has Tourette’s, music is a grounding form of communication.

While performing or listening to music, a person’s tics may halt or reduce in frequency, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences. 

Music therapy is an interpersonal process to help someone improve emotional, social, physical, cognitive and spiritual well-being. Through his studies in the Boyer College of Music and Dance, Licato hopes to further research on music and Tourette’s and help people manage their symptoms with music. There is currently no known cause or cure for Tourette’s, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

Licato and other students want to provide music therapy to people in minority or impoverished communities. 

“This is what I was put on this earth to do,” said Theresa McGuinness, a sophomore music therapy major who grew up with music in her life.

Music has a strong capacity for healing because it stimulates the pleasure centers in the brain, which produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes a person feel happy, according to Ashford University. 

When a person engages with music, dopamine production can increase, further “improving mood, enhancing learning and focus, and promoting overall well being,” according to the Center for Neurological and Neurodevelopmental Health.

“[Music can be used to] bridge the gap between the left and right brain to achieve goals such as learning to talk by singing or learning to walk to the beat of a preferred song,” McGuinness said.

Additionally, music can aid in the development of auditory processing, according to Integrated Learning Strategies, a Utah-based center that provides resources for children with learning disabilities. 

Researchers at ILS found that music and sound therapy helped people improve their attention and observed positive changes for people with auditory processing disorders, ADHD, dyslexia and autism.

Researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine also found benefits music provides. A 2007 study linked music to increasing attention spans, ability to make predictions and improvements in memory.

In the study, people listened to short Boroque pieces separated by moments of silence. In those moments of silence, the subjects’ brains became “arrested” by the silence and anticipated the next movement. Using these effects that music has on the brain, music therapists can help people to learn how to use daily functions through music and silence.

McGuinness used singing as an outlet to release stress, she said. She wants to use music to save others from conditions that are out of their control and provide them with an outlet, she added. 

Like McGuinness, Nathan Kozel, a sophomore music therapy major, played string bass to pull himself through tough times.

Kozel gives guitar lessons to teens at the Free Library of Philadelphia. He is still undecided on the specific demographic he will work with after college but he enjoys working with teens, he said. Temple University’s music therapy program includes three semesters of fieldwork for him to try to find his niche, he added. 

“Music therapy is for everyone, and that’s what this program teaches and prepares each student for,” said Darlene Brooks, the director of Temple’s music therapy program.

Fieldwork is designed to expose students to different work environments, like hospitals, hospices, psychiatric wards, prisons, juvenile detention centers and neonatal intensive care units, Brooks added.

Undergraduates pursuing a degree in music therapy must complete at least 200 hours of fieldwork shadowing a professional, before taking a full- or part-time internship for 1,000 hours in their final two semesters.

The Temple University Music Therapy Club facilitates networking and camaraderie within the program. Together, members fundraise to attend the Mid-Atlantic Region American Music Therapy Association Conference through events like the Boyerama Game Night that took place on Sunday. They also volunteer to work with seniors and special needs communities.

“Music and therapy work together to bring about a change in the client, regardless of their conditions,” Brooks said.

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