Two Inches of Frozen Lessons in Music Therapy Advocacy

I was trapped in my car for 12 hours before I began walking for the next hour or so to meet up with a family friend who was walking to find me and drive me back to their family’s home. I was one of the lucky ones. As I walked, some people tried to stop me saying, “You’d be better off to stay in your car and freeze than to walk and freeze.”

Call me stubborn, but I walked anyway.

Yesterday a whopping two inches of snow graced our city’s streets as the entire city released all of its citizens to head home or to find shelter from the snow and ice. Most of you probably know the drama that soon followed…

Millions of people were trapped in cars on the roads for 24+ hours without food, water, heat, gas, or blankets. In short most people had nothing except the clothes on their backs. I was one of those people.

Last night as I was walking, I became instantly grateful for the years that I spent in Boone, North Carolina completing my music therapy equivalency at Appalachian State University. Not only did I receive a first class education, but the bitter cold temperatures (at least to a southern girl who had only ever lived in Alabama and Georgia) and high winds that came every winter to that little mountain town were just the preparation that I would need for last night’s trek through the snow.

“Walk in the snow, not on the ice.”

“Move as quickly as is safe to keep your body temperature up.”

“Layer as many clothes as is humanly possible.”

The lessons I had learned during those years in Boone played through my brain. I looked down at my feet as I hiked uphill and saw the footprints of the hundreds of people who had walked the same path that now lay before me. More lessons began to play through my head, this time not for my physical comfort, but lessons that I had learned for my career as a music therapist in my Models of Mental Health class.

“You aren’t the only one in your situation.”

“Dishabituation: breaking out of the stuckness.”

“People prefer music congruent to their mood.”

I’ll be honest – after I passed my tenth hour in the car, I hit my breaking point. I felt alone, stuck, and just downright scared. The footprints in the snow jolted me back to reality with my lessons from school.

I wasn’t alone. Hundreds of people had walked the very same path that lay before me.

I wasn’t stuck anymore. I was moving away from the mind-numbing stuckness of sitting in my car towards safety.

I was singing. I was scared and singing about being scared. Slowly the fear changed to hope. Hope transformed to confidence. 

I am a music therapist. Each day at work I use these same principles with my clients and their families to support them as they grow and change along their journey.

In group music therapy settings clients learn through the musical experiences and conversations that arise that they aren’t the only person on earth in their particular situation. Music therapists are trained to counsel people in all different types of situations, draw connections between group members, and foster the physical, emotional, and musical support that people need in music therapy to create their own changes in their life.

Musical improvisations with a board certified music therapist provide space for clients to explore, try new things, and express what sometimes cannot be said with words.

Musical improvisations give children with autism the chance to experience what it’s like to break out of the “stuckness” of a stimming behavior. Musical improvisations provide a child who is grieving the space and emotional support to be sad, confused, even angry, and work through their emotions until they come out on the other side.

Musical improvisations provide people battling addictions with a safe space to process how hard it can be to make such life altering lifestyle changes to literally save their own life. It also gives these same clients a chance to break out of the “stuckness” of their habits and imagine a life with different actions as they take the next step forward.

Music therapists are sensitive to their clients’ needs and know when to push and prod towards a musical change and when to let their clients just be, thereby validating their emotions.

The voice is a powerful instrument. We use our voices every day to communicate our wants, needs, aspirations, fears, and dreams. Sometimes we do this through conversations and sometimes through song. As a singer, I am probably biased in saying that the voice holds the most power, but I believe it because it’s personal. Although they can be similar, no two voices are exactly the same. Uniqueness lies in the timbre, the cracks, the inflections of each person’s voice. In music therapy we often use our voices as well as other instruments to make music that meets clients where they are by matching their mood and support them as they gradually move from places of uncertainty and instability to confidence and stability. When music therapists use this technique they might be working with a person writhing in pain from a medical procedure to relax and ease the pain. Sometimes it’s meeting a person with dementia who is agitated and extremely upset in the hallway of an assisted living or skilled nursing facility and engage them in music that moves them to a calmer state. Music therapists don’t necessarily try to make people happy when they are sad, but we are musicians who use our voices and our instruments to meet people where they are and help them as they work towards where they want to be.

We are trained, board-certified music therapists, and we are here to help.