Musical therapists like George Kweder are allied health professionals who use music to accomplish therapeutic ends. These ends include improvements in cognitive skills, motor skills and emotional self-control. These therapists work across a wide spectrum of health care settings including hospitals, recovery programs and psychiatric hospitals. Sometimes physicians or other health care professionals refer patients to music therapists, and sometimes patients seek them on their own.
George Kweder primarily works with children and offers highly customized intervention plans to meet each child's needs. Many of his clients are affected by autism, while others have been diagnosed with conditions like cerebral palsy. Music therapy has also proven to be an effective intervention for people struggling with depression. Depression and anxiety often go hand in hand, and instrumental therapy can go a long way toward relieving stress.
Music therapy has been found effective for people dealing with:
• Autism: Many autistic people are more responsive to communication techniques that use music rather than speech. If a note is sung to them, they will often respond by singing that note back. They are often quite adept in learning how to play instruments.
• Strokes: Several research studies have demonstrated that music therapy can potentiate the benefits of traditional therapy for stroke victims. Stroke victims do better with physical therapy and occupational therapy exercise goals when they listen to instruments and tunes.
• Schizophrenia: Schizophrenic patients show marked improvement of affect and amelioration of negative symptoms like anhedonia with music therapy. This therapy also increases their desire to interact socially and increases their interest in external events.
Before George Kweder became a therapist, he believed that music therapy was a fairly recent innovation. Actually, though, this combination has been linked since time immemorial. In ancient Greece, Apollo, the god of medicine, was also the god of music. Apollo's son Asclepius, who may actually have been an historical personage, is credited with using music to cure mental disorders. Certainly Egyptian temples, which were also places of healing, knew that music relieved somatic conditions that were caused by stress.
Chanting is an integral part of many tribal healing ceremonies, notes George Kweder. Almost every indigenous culture including the Native Americans have traditions that include singing and dancing as healing techniques. To this day, shamans perform healing rituals that incorporate specific songs and responses.
As long ago as 400 B.C., Hippocrates wrote of using music to soothe patients who suffered from obvious mental disorders. Arab hospitals throughout medieval times contained special rooms where instruments were played in an effort to heal patients. The treatise "Meanings of the Intellect" by the Islamic scientist al-Farabi provides one of the first music therapy descriptions. "Meanings of the Intellect" was first printed in the 10th century.
In modern times, this type of treatment traces its roots back to World War II. Soldiers returned from the front suffering from what physicians now recognize as post-traumatic stress. These veterans suffered from a number of complaints that had both psychic and somatic components. Many of these veterans could only be pulled out of themselves through music. The treatment as an organized discipline developed in an attempt to meet these veterans' needs.
People who want to follow in George Kweder's footsteps to become a music therapist must earn a degree. Their degrees must come from an American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) approved program. Their coursework will include classes in fields like biology, psychology and behavioral sciences. Candidates are also required to do internships at health care facilities. They must complete 1,200 hours of fieldwork before they can apply for certification from AMTA.
The AMTA website includes a list of internships that have been approved by the organization. As you can imagine, competition for these internships can be intense. People who aspire to become musical therapists are often quite passionate about their chosen profession.
Opportunities also exist to earn advanced graduate degrees in music therapy. Additionally, practitioners can choose specialties within the field. George Kweder, for example, trained in a specialty called Neurologic Musical Therapy. This prepared him to work with patients who suffer from neurological disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia.
In order to be certified by AMTA, one must pass a rigorous examination. Once they pass the examination, they must complete continuing education credits on a regular basis. If they do not do so, they will be required to retake the certifying examination every five years.
George Kweder notes that there are a lot of misconceptions about this treatment. One of the most common is that patients who participate in treatments must have musical ability in order to benefit. This is simply not the case. This treatment the body and the brain in many ways irrespective of the ability to play an instrument.
• Brainwaves: Scientific research has proven that music with a powerful rhythm can actually cause brainwaves to synchronize with the music. Quicker rhythms sharpen powers of concentration while slower rhythms induce more tranquil meditative states.
• Altered brainwaves will cause other physiological changes such as decreases in respiratory rate and heartbeats. When the number of heartbeats goes down, blood pressure generally drops. Digestive functions improve and the body stops manufacturing stress-related hormones like cortisol.
What Do Music Therapists Do?
Music therapists like George Kweder and other therapists associated with the Kweder Therapy Group interact with patients in many ways. They incorporate a number of different elements into therapy sessions including:
• Making music: Patients may beat on drums or play simple instruments like triangles. The ability to produce harmonic sounds within a rhythmical pattern proves relaxing for many patients. It also gives patients with speech disorders a means of communicating that does not rely upon speech. George Kweder incorporates this aspect of treatment into his work quite often.
• Writing songs: The therapists teach ways of combining the basic elements such as pitch, rhythm and melody with writing song lyrics. The therapists often start with simple exercises such as "Fill in the Blanks." They'll start out with a piece of music that has a repeating structure, such as a blues song. Then they'll work with patients to fill in appropriate lyrics.
Patients are encouraged to write lyrics that deal with frustrations arising from their own experiences. Putting one's emotions into a song can be a cathartic experience for many patients.
• Listening to music: This can also be therapeutic. It often conveys powerful emotions. Think of the background notes that are used to convey emotional situations in movies! Verbalizing feelings they have when they listen to music can help patients come to terms with their own disorders. Therapists can also use guided imagery in conjunction with listening to music.
George Kweder is thrilled with the fact that scientific research continues to prove the benefits of this treatment. Recent research clearly demonstrates music therapy's efficacy in achieving positive outcomes for physical rehabilitation, Alzheimer's disease, and psychoneuroimmunology. New imaging studies are able to pinpoint precise areas in the brain that are affected by music. This information can be incorporated into an ever expanding number of treatment modalities.
In the past, this treatment was regarded as an application of a social service model. Increasingly, however, treatment has proven itself to be firmly grounded in a biological medical model.
In 2011, the famed Berklee College of Music published an article describing new technology developments in this treatment. Faculty members and student researchers have perfected a video motion tracking technology. Video motion tracking technologies will allow clinicians to assess whether music therapy improves range of motion as a physical therapy adjunct. Researchers at the school have also developed a set of apps for the iPhone and iPad that are useful for the therapists.
Two other factors are affecting the future of music therapy as a profession. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act is certain to have an effect on the profession. Will insurers continue to pay for reimbursement of music therapy services under the terms of this new health care legislation?
The aging of the Baby Boomer demographic will also have an effect. This phenomenon will bring about an increase in certain neurological conditions like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease. These conditions respond favorably to music therapy. Indeed, the treatment is a highly effective adjunct treatment for them that is less expensive than many other types of therapy.
The treatment enables practitioners to use their creative talents to assist others through the healing process. Every day on the job is different and exciting. The field is growing and changing very quickly, but the future looks bright. George Kweder finds music therapy so fulfilling that if he weren't paid to do it, he might do it for free.