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Music in Therapy

Posted on: March 15th, 2021

When I first began this career, I wanted to learn as much as possible about music therapy and explore different settings to find where I felt my heart and passion would be most in connection with my desire to help others.  

I first experienced the benefits of music reaching others by playing in churches.  Next, it was funerals and then weddings.  After this, I entered college and began the process of working with exceptional children, such as special education, and adults with disabilities.  I met folks with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and an array of other ailments.  I enjoyed singing to older adults in various settings and later doing process-oriented music therapy work with kids in the residential setting, and later the foster care system.

I learned how music could relieve stress or muscle tension before a patient had surgery.  I learned how music could help a patient with a stroke begin to speak again through singing.  I learned how music could decrease isolation and pain for persons on life support.  I learned how music could facilitate connection with families in end of-life care, how music could coordinate movement where Parkinson’s had impacted a patient’s ability to walk.  I met adults with chronic mental health conditions and children with all levels of autism with varying degrees of impairment, and found new ways of connecting with these individuals through our music-making.  

Now, I blend music with counseling and play.  The aspects of its use have shifted over the years as I embarked with different populations and learned new skills.

Interventions commonly seen in therapy sessions addressed with music therapy target self-regulation, coping skills, emotional expression, enhanced mood, social interactions, attention and focus, as well as others.  

Techniques include: 

  • Music-listening
  • Lyric analysis 
  • Musical re-creation
  • Improvisation 
  • Songwriting

While theses are only small accounts of the many ways music may be incorporated in therapy, thousands of other music therapists are doing this wonderful work daily and I encourage you to check out their stories.

For more information on music therapy, please see the American Music Therapy Association’s fact sheets or MT Mental Health 2006.

For more information on how to incorporate music into your life or during therapy, contact me at SHCS.

Music Relieves Stress

Posted on: March 15th, 2021

March is National Music Month.  There are some fabulous ways to experience music, even if you cannot attend live events at this time.  With apps like Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube, we literally have selections at our fingertips.  Did you know, though that what you listen to can literally heal or harm you?

Music has been used for hundreds of years to treat illnesses and restore harmony between mind and body. Research today has provided evidence-based support for incorporating music in our lives to reduce pain, stress, among other components.

According to psychcentral.com, the soothing power of music is well-established.  It has a unique link to our emotions and can be an extremely effective stress management tool.  Slow, quiet, instrumental music can relax our minds and bodies.  The Power of Music To Reduce Stress (psychcentral.com).  It slows the pulse, heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and decreases stress hormones.  The music focuses our attention, provides a healthy distraction and helps to explore and express emotions.  It can aid meditation and help prevent the mind from wandering.  

Music preferences vary widely, however.  What works for one person may be different for someone else.  It’s important to find and explore what works for you.  If you’re not someone that gravitates to trying music when feeling stressed, avoiding music is often common.  However, I encourage yourself to give it try.  

Here are some simple ways to explore music for yourself:

  • Make a portable playlist.  Listen from your computer, phone, computer, or car. 
  • Listen while walking, bathing, meditating, or doing household tasks.
  • Listen while walking your dog.
  • If your music has lyrics, sing along to release tension.
  • Listen to calming music for peace and relaxation before bed to induce sleep.
  • If you play an instrument, practice with intention, without judgment, and listen deeply. 

For more information about music therapy and how it could benefit your life, please contact me at SHCS.

Random Acts of Kindness

Posted on: February 28th, 2021

When I was a teenager I worked for a small department store a few hours per week.  I made plenty of mistakes.  My supervisor at the time was fairly strict about the procedures and I often felt stressed when I was working with her on my shift since I did often make a lot of mistakes.  I tried humor and a friendly smile, but she did not laugh.  

When it was time to leave for college, I thanked my supervisor for her time with me and gave her a tin of homemade cookies.  My supervisor cried and hugged me.  She told me that no one was ever nice to her.  I later learned just by listening that her husband had died and she had undergone a very difficult year.  After that event my perspective of this woman was changed.  I went back to visit her on school breaks to say hello and made an effort to speak to her before leaving the store.  She met me with a friendly smile, a warm hug, and well-wishes.  

As a counselor, I love teaching others about mindfulness, the benefits of not judging ourselves and others.  I talk about the practice of having compassion for others, even when it’s hard, and to be kinder to themselves during times of challenge or self-doubt.  One of DBT’s distraction strategies is called Contributing.  

By contributing to someone else, we mindfully focus on the need of another person.  By offering help, volunteering, doing a good deed, or providing a service for someone else, it takes our minds off ourselves and contributes to the wellbeing of someone else.  In this way, we learn to be generous, thoughtful, grateful, helpful and develop empathy for others.  Contributing offers a chance to reconnect and provides a sense of achievement. You can find more about this strategy here.

On February 17th, Random Acts of Kindness Day is celebrated.  This is a great time to think about doing something for someone else.  It doesn’t have to be big.  Perhaps a letter, text, phone call, or card might cheer someone up.  You never know what kind of impact a small gesture of kindness can have on a person’s life.  

For additional words and acts of kindness see Random Acts of Kindness | Kindness Ideas.  

If you are struggling to contribute to someone else and would like to learn more about connecting with others in your life, contact me at SHCS.

National Play Therapy Week

Posted on: February 15th, 2021

February 7-13 is National Play Therapy Week.  According to the American Play Therapy Association, play therapy is “the systematic use of a theoretical model to establish an interpersonal process wherein trained play therapists use the therapeutic powers of play to help clients prevent or resolve psychosocial difficulties and achieve optimal growth and development.”

More simply put, child play therapy is a way of being with the child that honors their unique developmental level and looks for ways of helping in the “language” of the child – play.  Licensed mental health professionals therapeutically use play to help their clients, most often children ages three to 12 years, to better express themselves and resolve their problems.

Play therapy works best when a safe relationship is created between the therapist and client, one in which the latter may freely and naturally express both what pleases and bothers them.

Mental health agencies, schools, hospitals, and private practitioners have utilized play therapy as a primary intervention or as supportive therapy for:

  • Behavioral problems, such as anger management, grief and loss, divorce and abandonment, and crisis and trauma.
  • Behavioral disorders, such as anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), autism or pervasive developmental, academic and social developmental, physical and learning disabilities, and conduct disorders.

Research suggests play therapy is an effective mental health approach, regardless of age, gender, or the nature of the problem, and works best when a parent, family member, or caretaker is actively involved in the treatment process.

At SHCS, I use play techniques with children 12 and under to work on an array of treatment goals.  Some children are learning how to play, or how to engage with others, while others are developing flexibility, learning to take turns, or expressing to me their world, feelings, and perspective, with friends, at school, or with family members.  Play is both fun and powerful!  

For more information on play therapy or play techniques with your child, contact me at SHCS.

Music Therapy and Autism

Posted on: January 30th, 2021

In honor of Music Therapy Social Media Advocacy Month, I wanted to share some insights into how music therapy benefits children having autism.  

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder, currently affecting 1 in 68 individuals in the United States (CDC, 2014). While the causes are still unclear, the DSM-5 describes the following two cores characteristics of ASD: 1) deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, and 2) restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviors, interests, and activities.  Interventions, such as music therapy, are crucial for individuals with ASD to maximize their potential and lead fulfilled lives.

According to the American Music Therapy Association, people of all ages, cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, and degrees of abilities respond to aspects of music in daily life. The engaging nature and accessibility of music often elicit positive responses from individuals with ASD. 

Researchers have discussed that persons with ASD have advanced music memory, responsiveness, and aptitudes for music.  They may have more sensitivity to musical elements, yet similar skills of music perception as compared to typically developing peers.  While only a small number of individuals with ASD are musical savants, all clients can benefit from music therapy interventions (Fact_Sheet_ASD_and_MT__8-26-15.pdf (musictherapy.org).

Music therapy interventions focus on enhancing social, communicative, motor/sensory, emotional, and academic/cognitive functioning, or music skills in individuals with ASD. Music therapy services are based on each client’s individual abilities, noting preferences, needs, the family’s values, beliefs, and priorities. Music therapists work in partnership with clients, families, and teams.

Music therapy interventions are informed by research evidence and have been found to enhance or improve:

  • Communication
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Personal responsibility
  • Play
  • Joint attention 
  • Auditory processing, other sensory-motor, perceptual/motor, or gross/fine motor skills
  • Identification and appropriate expression of emotions
  • Social engagement in the home environment and community
  • Target behaviors and teach new skills

Music therapists accept referrals and provide assessments and interventions to individuals with ASD and their families in public schools, family homes, private practice settings, preschools/ daycares, music therapy agencies, early intervention programs, treatment centers, support groups, hospitals, and various venues within the community. The role of the music therapist may be as a provider of direct services (i.e., via individual and group sessions), as a coach to parents, or as a consultant to family members/caregivers, educators, or team members (Kern et al., 2013).

Music therapy is an evidence-based health profession and is recognized as a related service under the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Therefore, preschool, youth, and young adults may be eligible for music therapy services under the IDEA Part B. Services also may be funded by states, foundations, or community grants. Many music therapists also accept private payments.

For more information on Music Therapy see my Blog#3: Music Therapy and Counseling or contact me at SHCS.

Having Hope Now and Into the New Year

Posted on: January 15th, 2021

With 2021 upon us, I look forward to a new year, though I admit much of my thoughts continue to be around COVID.  I anticipate the arrival of the COVID vaccine, look forward to seeing fewer cases, and possibly seeing more folks in-person as cases decline over this next year.  I look forward to a return to normalcy and spending time doing experiences outside the home with my family.  I long for a return of planning trips and vacations and seeing my kids involved in community activities.

According to dictionary.com, hope is a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.  Other words to describe hope include: to expect, anticipate, look for, wait for,  want, wish for, or dream of.  

According to, How to be more hopeful, there are several ways we can practice being more hopeful.  

  1. Shift your expectations – think about a few things you can look forward to throughout the day.  Think positively.
  2. Recognize that you can change your life at any point.  Open yourself up to the possibilities that exist for everyone, at every age.
  3. Find meaning in the most challenging moments.
  4. Listen to another person’s story with intention.  Invite someone else to share a meaningful time in their life.
  5. Identify the things in this world that you love.  Count your blessings.  Choose gratefulness.
  6. Focus on the good parts in situations.  Listen to inspiring songs, stories, or podcasts.  
  7. Look for the compassion and genuine acts of human kindness among us, even amidst tragedy in our world.

For more inspiration on having a fresh start in 2021 see my Blog #14- A Guide to a Healthier Happier You and Blog#15- Tips to Make This Year Less Stressful

Step by Step Guide to Positive Thinking

Posted on: December 31st, 2020

“This always happens to me.” “Nothing ever works out.” “I think if I try this step differently, this will work out better in the long run.” “I’m doing the best I can.”

Did you know that what you think has a powerful effect on your outlook on life, your attitude towards yourself, and others? Did you know being a pessimist or an optimist affects your health and wellbeing?
Health benefits that positive thinking may provide include:

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress

Pessimists tend to magnify the negative aspects of a situation. They blame themselves or anticipate the worst. They tend to see things as only good or bad. Optimists, on the other hand, tend to have mostly positive thoughts. They think the best outcome is going to happen. And they look at situations in a more productive way.

Did you know that negativity and pessimism can be changed? It takes practice and little flexibility, but it can have lasting results. Here’s how.

  1. Start the day with a positive affirmation. Set the tone for the day.
  2. Focus on the good things, however small.
  3. Find humor in bad situations.
  4. Turn failures into lessons.
  5. Turn a negative thought into positive self-talk.
  6. Focus on the here and now.
  7. Surround yourself with positive people.
    Read the entire article about 7 Practical Tips to Achieve a Positive Mindset.

With practice, you will discover less critical thoughts towards yourself, and more accepting thoughts towards yourself, others, and the world around you.
If you need more support for changing your thoughts, contact me at SHCS.

Grief and the Holidays

Posted on: December 15th, 2020

While the rest of the world celebrates in socially distanced ways or gathers in small groups this holiday season, countless others around the world will be grieving the loss of loved ones this year.

The holiday music, holiday parties, and festive decorations that are meant to bring joy often trigger painful reminders of loss in those that grieve. As it is for most people experiencing loss, the holiday season is typically the most painful time of all.
If you are wondering how to get through the holidays this year, the strategies outlined by Amy Morin may help.

  1. Trust that grief is part of healing.
  2. Set healthy boundaries
  3. Focus on what you can control
  4. Plan ahead.
  5. Allow yourself to feel a range of emotions
  6. Find a way to honor your memories. Decide which traditions to keep or change.
  7. Create new traditions in memory of your loved one.
  8. Do something kind for others.
  9. Ask for help. Seek out support.

Acknowledge that the holidays will be different and they will be tough, but remind yourself there will also be love and joy. Remember it is ok to experience happiness during a time of loss. Acknowledge the
the joy you do find this holiday season.
For more tips see her blog or my Blog #5: Grief…Why does it hurt so much? If you need support, contact me at SHCS.

Boundaries: Making and Keeping Them

Posted on: November 15th, 2020

John is an excellent student. He works full-time and takes college classes. He sees his friends periodically, but due to his schedule his friends are only available to play online video games late at night, so he sacrifices sleep in order to spend time with them. Lately, his mind races when he needs to
be sleeping. At home, his family expects him to pick up additional responsibilities and chores and unload on him emotionally because he is still living there. He doesn’t have time for any self-care and is beginning to become stressed and depressed about his workload and home life. How can boundaries help?

According to Margarita Tartakovsky, Boundaries are essential to healthy relationships and, really, a healthy life. Setting and sustaining boundaries is a skill. Unfortunately, it’s a skill that many of us don’t learn. Having healthy
boundaries mean “knowing and understanding what your limits are.”
She observes 10 ways to build and maintain them.

  1. Name your limits (physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual). Consider what you can tolerate and accept and what makes you feel uncomfortable or stressed.
  2. Tune into your feelings. Discomfort and resentment are red flags. The more intense the feeling, the need for boundaries. Ask yourself, “What is it about this interaction or the person’s expectation that is bothering me?”
  3. Be Direct. Speak up and say no.
  4. Give yourself permission. Fear, guilt, and self-doubt are pitfalls to maintaining healthy boundaries. Boundaries are a sign of self-respect. Work to preserve them.
  5. Practice Self-Awareness. Tune into your feelings and honor them. Notice the changes causing you resentment or stress.
  6. Consider your past or present. How you were raised along with your role in your family can become additional obstacles in setting and preserving boundaries.
  7. Make self-care a priority. Give yourself permission to put yourself first. Putting yourself first also gives you the “energy, peace of mind, and positive outlook to be more present with others and be there” for them.” 
  8. Seek Support. Practice setting boundaries within a group. In turn, the group helps one another stay accountable for setting and maintaining them.
  9. Be assertive. Follow through. Respectfully communicate with the other person when they’ve crossed a boundary. Let them know what has bothered you so you can address it together.
  10. Start small. What is the single most effective thing you can do right now to make one small thing in your life better?

    “Setting boundaries takes courage, practice, and support, but it is
    something that can be mastered.
    Not sure where to start? Give me a call at SHCS.

Self-Care and You

Posted on: November 15th, 2020

Living in the United States during a time of the global pandemic, with political unrest and division, bombarding news images, stories, and social media feeds, is indeed exhausting and stressful.
While most of the world has been focused on the presidential election, others have been concerned about their jobs, health, racism, grades, or the effects of global warming. In my last few blogs, I’ve talked about burnout, compassion fatigue, the importance of boundaries, and today, self-care.

When I ask clients if they have made self-care a priority in their lives, most say “no.” Many say they do not have time, or that self-care takes too much effort. However, when I ask them if they are satisfied with their lives, self-care is typically one of the most important skills they are missing. According to Michelle King, self-care is about “refueling ourselves so we can continue our work, drawing boundaries so we can stay whole, giving ourselves permission to feel and pursue joy, and pausing to take a breath so we do not collapse.”

So how do we practice self-care? She identifies three steps:

  1. Know when you need it (awareness)
  2. Make a list of your self-care options (toolbox)
  3. Commit to practicing self-care (just do it)

Lynn Wonders, play therapy supervisor of Wonders Counseling Services advocates for therapists to create a self-care plan (annually, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily).
Imagine if you devoted this same attention to your own care. What would be different in your life?

Lynn describes several considerations for practicing self-care for therapists, however, this list applies to anyone. These include:

  • Relaxation Exercises- body scan, breathing exercises, yoga, and tightening/relaxing muscle
  • Groups
  • Taking time to rest deeply
  • Taking a soaking bath with candles, music, essential oils
  • Regular daily exercise
  • Take time to be out in nature
  • Drink a mindful cup of tea or coffee
  • Eat nutritiously
  • Practice meditation
  • Read a book of fiction for fun
  • Play
  • Spend time with your pet

Self-care is the single most effective thing you can do to feel better, right now. Need more inspiration, contact me at SHCS.