The healing power of music

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 2, 2011

By Sarah Hall For The Salisbury Post
When Dean Quick was embarking on the course of study at Appalachian State University leading to a degree in music therapy, his first required observation was with therapist Lauren DiMaio at the bedside of a dying woman. DiMaio, with Care Partners of Asheville, had developed a rapport earlier with this patient, and knew songs that this woman loved. But the last two times DiMaio had come, the woman had been no longer able to speak. Now she would inhale, and hold the breath. Wait — then let it out. There would be another pause. Then she would take another gasping breath. DiMaio played “Ave Maria” on her keyboard, adjusting the tempo, slow, then fast, smooth, then punctuated, to match the patient’s breathing. Suddenly, the seemingly unconscious woman let out a moan, perfectly on pitch with the music being played, as if to sing. “I looked at my class partner who was there with me,” says Quick, “and I said, ‘this is exactly what I want to do.’ At that moment I knew. The energy in the room had totally changed. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.” • • • In 2009, Quick graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music therapy, and in 2010 he became a board-certified practitioner. And he’s staying busy, working full time for The Pines of Davidson where he serves as coordinator of therapeutic activities for the dementia/ Alzheimer’s unit and provides individual group music therapy for residents. Additionally, he has his own business, Creative Therapy, providing in-home services for clients of all ages. He has worked with people experiencing mental health disorders, cognitive deficits, intellectual disability, physical impairments, neurological ailments and terminal illness. All of the people he sees have a medical need that can be addressed by music. With children, his services may be requested by parents or caregivers who have noticed their child responds to music. If a treatment team recommends music therapy, Quick examines the treatment plan, performs some introductory sessions and thoughtfully determines how he will use music in the treatment of each individual client. “It can be a fun, interactive way to achieve goals,” says Quick, “and I use an interdisciplinary approach, such as including dancing to help with delays in physical development, and singing to help with a speech impediment.” He demonstrates, singing Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl,” with a repeated “pa-pa-pa-pa,” in the chorus, reinforcing a speech therapy technique. People have seen the therapeutic advantages of music for centuries, but music therapy has only been recognized as a profession since 1950 with the creation of the National Association for Music Therapy, which later merged with another group and is now the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). Research has shown that brain waves get in sync with a beat that is being performed, with faster beats helping concentration and slower beats facilitating a calm state. Alteration of brain waves affects body functions such as breathing and heart rate, and so music has been shown to counteract the damaging effect of stress. Evidence has even been seen that music helps lower blood pressure, boosts immunity and eases muscle tension. Quick points out that music therapy is cost-effective treatment, since it can enable a client to avoid the expense of drug therapies. But he says he has to spend as much time advocating and explaining the legitimacy of his profession as he does practicing it. This involves constantly educating people about the evidence-based research and the advantages and benefits of using music in treatment. Health insurance companies have been slow to accept music therapy as an allowable treatment, but with the increasing market demand for more patient choice in treatment, some companies are providing reimbursement where music therapy has been considered a medical necessity. Companies that have provided reimbursement include Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Humana, Aetna, Metropolitan, and Provident. “But there are still people who can’t believe I really got a degree in ‘music therapy.’ Or they’ll say, ‘that must be fun.’ It isn’t fun to look at mental illness or suicide in the face on a regular basis.” Few professionals do as much to meet the full range of mental, physical and spiritual needs as do music therapists. And few therapists deal with people at all stages of life, from newborn to elderly. Quick’s services were recently contracted by Hospice in Stanly County, where he assisted with a legacy project. In the course of using music as a tool for pain management and relaxation, patients were encouraged to reflect on the stages of their lives, picking songs to represent each stage. Quick says this exercise helped lead patients and their families closer to acceptance. Quick recorded songs selected by the patient into a finished product documenting the person’s life. Sometimes the family would be involved in creating the recording. Other times, the dying person would accomplish the recording with Quick as a surprise, something left behind for the family to experience after the person’s death, a gift of joy and comfort. In his practice, Quick gets to frequently witness the seemingly magical effects of music, but he knows the outcome has a physical cause. “We all have a biological response to music. Even newborns, if you shake a rattle or sing, are attracted to the sound. “You may be working with an adolescent who is completely withdrawn, and hand him a xylophone or drum, which he will start playing really fast. There’s something internal they don’t want to share. “We process music in the cerebral cortex of the brain, and so musical ability may not be affected in elderly people experiencing dementia due to impairment of the hippocampus. I see residents at The Pines who are musicians. They can’t hold a conversation but may pull a Chopin nocturne out of their back pocket and play it beautifully. It’s wonderful.” Although Quick plays the piano and guitar quite well, his busy schedule leaves little time to perform for his own enjoyment or to entertain others. He admits that he might be neglecting his own well being ,as far as music therapy is concerned, by being so focused on his clients’ needs. But attempts to get Quick to discuss his own musical experience and abilities always just lead back to the people he helps. At Salisbury’s Partners In Learning Child Development and Family Resource Center, the community inclusion director, Katherine Generaux, is a big believer in Quick’s techniques. She is in charge of an autism support group and organizes workshops. It was at one of these recent workshops that she got to observe Quick firsthand. “I marvel about Dean,” she says. “I already knew he understood music. What really impressed me was how much he understands about disabilities, and his wonderful instincts. He quickly picks up each nuance of the children.” Generaux goes on to describe a scene at the workshop where Quick had the opportunity to work with a 3-year-old boy from the community who had significant challenges. He was non-verbal, and wasn’t engaging with the others in the group Quick took his keyboard off its stand and sat down with it, next to the child. He started improvising tunes, trying to get the child’s attention. Then he placed the keyboard in front of the boy, who suddenly grabbed Quick’s hands and moved them around the keyboard, mimicking Quick’s earlier motions. It was yet another example of music’s ability to break through when nothing else seems to work. “The therapist is just a facilitator,” says Quick. “The music is what does the work.” • • • To contact Dean Quick about music therapy services, call 910-995-2775 or contact • • • Dean Quick will be one of the demonstrators at a Special Needs Mini-Conference being sponsored by Partners in Learning Saturday, May 7. It will take place in the Ketner Building on the campus of Catawba College. It is designed for families and educators of children birth to 5 years old. Registration begins at 8 a.m. For information about the workshop, call 704-638-9020.