Music as an art form, is such a powerful tool to use in therapy. The experiences we have when listening to, and engaging in music, parallel the vast amount of emotions we feel inside, which can help us connect to ourselves. Music has no boundaries and has the capacity to reach every population, but working with seniors and the geriatric population always challenges me to think deeply about what it means to live a fulfilling life.
Something I like to think about when working with this demographic is where they came from. When you reflect on this you discover that aging is a natural process of life that most of us will experience during our time on earth. The only difference that this unique experience holds is that we are no longer growing at this stage – where most of our lives we are in a state of constant change and growth. This, however, can be very debilitating especially in our Western culture where we value independence as an honorable characteristic. When working with this population I try to be as sensitive as possible to this idea and try to remember that they were a very productive and functioning part of society where now they are often seen as a burden to their caretakers. This is why a constant theme that seems to keep coming up is the importance of connecting with others without judgement as a fundamental human need.
Quite often during a session all those philosophical and existential questions that someone might have had when they were young come back with a whole new importance and context as you take one more step toward the end of a full life. To some this may seem like a dark theme but for others it’s a chance to reflect on life’s meaning and what is important in life. For one client it is her husband that consumes her everyday thoughts and music helps her to connect to him and the experiences they had traveling the world and growing a life together. “I’m waiting to be reunited with him where we can sing together” are her words after we finish a session.
Others need to be reminded of the importance of the present moment. Again, this theme of connecting with others arises as a man tells me that his only living family members are that of his late wife’s daughters. Realizing his isolation we sing a song to validate these feelings, which is a heartbreaking moment but described by him as “necessary”. Coming back to the present moment we finish the session off singing “King of the Road” and share fishing stories like old friends.
Whether it is a positive, negative or neutral response, our experiences from moment to moment hold onto a certain emotion. Music has a very large and diverse index of emotions that can be experienced by the listener and can act as a vehicle for visiting past experiences whether the client remembers the experience or not. Music has a very strong tie to memory but along with these memories comes a feeling or emotion that is more meaningful than the events of the memory itself. There are two things that I’ve learned working with this population; how memories shape our identity and the importance this, and the importance of fulfillment in the present moment.
By Max Wood, BMT (MTA Pending) who works at JB Music Therapy.
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