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Singing Your Song

Singing Your Song

~~~Written By Amy Wilson

 

The first time I met Bill, I stood on the steps of a stately white home taking deep breaths to calm my racing heart before pushing the doorbell. What could I possibly offer a highly successful, well-connected man suffering from a rare neurological condition? Facts from journal articles and textbooks bounced around in my thoughts as I waited for someone to answer the door. 

 

What Can Music Do?

As a board-certified music therapist (MT-BC), I have seen how music from a person’s young adult years can provide orientation to the present moment in spite of Alzheimer’s or stroke (Gomez & Gomez, 2017). Intense pleasure responses to music can excite pathways in the brain involved in motivation (Zatorre & Salimpoor, 2013; Stegemöller, 2014). Preferred music can focus and sustain attention resulting in lower pain perception and increased relaxation (Bradt et al., 2021; Hirokiwa & Ohira, 2003; Lee, 2016)

But Bill did not need theories or statistics. He needed me to see him as a whole person through the music he loved. Over the course of many weeks as he received hospice care, I learned his favorite Irish tunes and sang Sinatra classics like, “New York, New York,” as Bob’s wife held his hand and recalled trips they had enjoyed together.

Amal spoke softly, thanking me for the smallest of kindnesses. I met him while working in behavioral health. His features remained calm and his voice low and steady. He recognized his situation and problems as he worked through the evils of a childhood in the Sudan. One afternoon I noticed how his body relaxed as I improvised music on the keyboard, so I continued playing as he and the other group members sat quietly with closed eyes. As he slowly emerged, Amal said the music brought him to a place of peace.

 

A Connection To God

Then there was Hannah, who two minutes into an assessment said, “I don’t want to answer any more of your #@$%* questions!” I received her message clearly. A week later, she was in my group requesting “This Little Light” and writing a beautiful song about finding strength in God and prayer. Initially I thought she was mocking the exercise. But as I was leaving that day, she stopped me and said, “When I came here, I was really high on drugs. I’m doing better now, and I really enjoyed your music group. Thank you.”

One morning, I led a group on the behavioral health unit in activities to encourage spiritual wellness. I had no idea how people would respond, and fully expected them to tell me this was stupid or to simply walk out. After many years as a worship leader and hospice music therapist, I know the power music holds for our faith and connection to God. But I did not know how people suffering from acute psychiatric symptoms would receive spiritual support. 

I created a group session that was patient-led and allowed them to choose spiritual or gospel songs they found meaningful. There were eight men in the group, including several who exhibited disorganized thoughts and behaviors, often speaking in disjointed words that were hardly understandable. These men chose songs like “What a Wonderful World,” singing every word clearly. Near the end of the group, a young man I had not yet met requested “Amazing Grace.” 

I  never sing this song without a request, as it can hold strong memories of funerals and loss. I asked everyone present if they wanted to sing it, and they all affirmed the choice. These men sang “Amazing Grace” with more conviction than I have ever seen in 20 years of worship leading. I have become very good at “bracketing” my own feelings when working, but this caught me off guard, especially “I once was lost, but now I’m found.” No matter their past or future, in that moment these men were clearly connecting with God and with one another.

When I first started working in behavioral health, it seemed to hold no similarities to hospice work. Now I think that in a spiritual sense, these two environments have much in common. The people I meet are often facing the most intense period of physical, emotional, psychological, and relational hardship they have ever endured. Perhaps because of their desperation, many of the people receiving care are open to God and recognize their deep need for him. With the simple offering of an acoustic guitar and my voice, I can share the light of Christ through music that reaches the soul.

 

A Source Of Healing

1 Samuel 16 tells the story of Saul in one of his darkest seasons. This story first captivated me as a middle schooler. How could it be that of all things, music is prescribed to ease Saul’s torment? Saul’s servants seem confident that beautiful music will relieve his suffering (I Samuel 16:16). Indeed, when David is found and plays his instrument for the king, Saul is “refreshed.” What exactly was the nature of Saul’s torment? Did he perhaps have a form of mental illness, or was the suffering entirely spiritual? A few details interest me. The healing Saul received did not occur in isolation, but in the context of a caring relationship. The illness or spiritual suffering was not a one-time event, but recurred. David played the lyre skillfully. He practiced his craft over time and the work of his hands was used to comfort. And the people of this ancient time expected music would provide the “cure.” Maybe they understood more fully how music reaches the whole person’s mind, body, and soul than we do in our modern thinking.

As a music therapist, I have the honor and privilege to know patients by their music. Songs connect us and build lasting memories. I witness restoration in the places where beauty meets brokenness. After studying music as a performer and music therapist for most of my life, I am increasingly amazed by this gift God has given us. Music can calm an infant, begin a teenage romance, inspire a team, tear down walls, unify a nation, share ideas, tell stories, and allow us to worship the Lord of All. May we give thanks for this good gift and use it to “build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Amy Wilson, MA, MT-BC is a board certified music therapist who regularly leads worship at our Leawood Campus. Amy and her family have attended Christ Community since 2012. She is currently a doctoral student at the University of Kansas and works in behavioral health. 

~~~~~

Names and details have been changed to protect confidentiality.

For more information about music therapy, please visit musictherapy.org

RELATED RESOURCES: 
For additional information listen to theFormed.life podcast (links below)
Episode 19: Exploring the Profound Impact of Music Therapy with Amy Wilson or Episode 20: A Body of Praise with W. David O. Taylor. Taylor highlights the significance of the physical body in our worship of God. 

 

CITATIONS:

Bradt, J., Dileo, C., Myers-Coffman, K., & Biondo, J. (2021). Music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in people with cancer. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 10(10), CD006911.

Gomez, G. M., & Gomez, G. J. (2017). Music therapy and Alzheimer’s Disease: Cognitive, psychological, and behavioral effects. Neurologia, 32(5): 300-308.

Hirokiwa, E., & Ohira, H. (2003). The effects of music listening after a stressful task on immune functions, neuroendocrine responses, and emotional states in college students. Journal of Music Therapy, 40(3), 189-211. 

Lee, J. H. (2016). The effects of music on pain: A meta-analysis. Journal of Music Therapy, 53(4), 430-477.

Stegemöller, E. L. (2014). Exploring a Neuroplasticity Model for Music Therapy. Journal of Music Therapy, 51(3), 211-227.

Zatorre, R. & Salimpoor, V. (2013). From perception to pleasure: music and its neural substrates. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – PNAS 110(2), p. 10430-10437 

 

Exploring the Profound Impact of Music Therapy with Amy Wilson |  POD 019

Exploring the Profound Impact of Music Therapy with Amy Wilson | POD 019

WATCH

LISTEN

RESOURCES

HOSTS & GUESTS

Amy Wilson – Guest

Paul Brandes – Co-Host

Bill Gorman – Co-Host

Show Notes

Exploring the Profound Impact of Music Therapy with Guest Amy Wilson

Amy Wilson, a passionate music therapist with a unique career journey, joins us on theFormed.life podcast today. Amy shares her experiences working in the field of music therapy, highlighting the impact of music on individuals in various settings, including hospice care and behavioral health. In this episode, we get a glimpse into the beauty that can unfold as we begin to more fully integrate our faith and work.

THREE KEY TAKEAWAYS:
  • Music therapy’s profound impact in various settings: Amy Wilson’s work, particularly in the context of hospice care and behavioral health demonstrates how music can bring beauty and connection to individuals facing challenging circumstances and provide moments of joy and reminiscence, even in the face of deep pain and difficulty.
  • The integration of faith and work: Amy’s relationship with Jesus and her work as a music therapist is part of her greater calling to connect with and serve others on a deeper level. Her  journey from a performance degree to music therapy is a testament to the value of integrating faith and work.
  • The importance of personal connection and storytelling: Amy shares specific stories that illustrate the impact of music therapy in real people’s lives, highlighting the significance of building relationships, learning favorite songs, and using music to access long-term memories and foster connection. She reminds us of the power of live music and its ability to create intimate and personal moments that can be key elements in anyone’s healing process.

#musictherapy #careerinspiration #integratingfaithandwork #hospicecare #therapeuticsounds #beautyinthebrokenness #musicandmemory #thehealingpowerofmusic #findingpurpose #joyofconnection

 

GUEST BIO:

Amy Wilson grew up in Oklahoma, with both of her parents working in the medical field. Yet, she found herself drawn to a different form of therapy – music therapy. Amy discovered music therapy by chance and was captivated by its ability to combine music with a therapeutic relationship to achieve learning or health goals. Intrigued by this unique approach, Amy felt a strong calling to pursue a career as a licensed music therapist. With her passion ignited, Amy embarked on a journey to learn and understand the power of music in healing and education. Inspired by her own story and the potential of music therapy, Amy is now dedicated to using music as a tool to bring about positive change and support individuals in various settings.

 

QUOTES:

“Music Therapy: Essentially, it’s applying music in the context of a relationship, And the goal is either some kind of learning objective, like in schools, or it’s a health objective as in a medical setting.”
— Amy Wilson

 

 “I did some volunteer work in hospitals and had a really significant experience, actually through my church and our Sunday school class. I was with a group of girls from 7th grade to 12th grade in our Baptist church at the time, and I don’t remember the context or why, but we started visiting a woman in the hospital who was pretty much alone and essentially dying of cancer. And we visited her on Sundays for months, and I don’t think this would ever happen now. But we got to be a part of Just her journey.”
— Amy Wilson

 

“Because of the way memory is stored in the brain and how we can access some of those long term memories through music, Even in the case of disease or injury,  it’s really amazing What can happen.”
— Amy Wilson

 

RESOURCES:

BLOG – Two Tools To Fight The Darkness – Paul Brandes

BOOK – Music Is Medicine – Deforia Lane

 

 

CHAPTERS:

[00:06:24] God guided me to hospice care, and music therapy.
[00:08:02] Music therapists in the United States: credentials, ethics, education, job opportunities.
[00:12:53] Impact of music therapy on real lives.
[00:13:56] Music therapy for degenerative neurologic disease patient.
[00:17:34] Connection, music, memories, creator – a beautiful gift.
[00:21:38] Evil person says music connects to relationships.
[00:25:57] Various ways to access music; importance of live music.
[00:29:11] End of work liturgy podcast for transition.
[00:30:22] Switching careers, what profession would you choose?