Interview with … a Music Therapist

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Introducing Dana Dempsey, the Certified Music Therapist joining NowWhat in February 2022, to talk about the incredible power of music as a therapeutic tool.

So Dana, what does a Music Therapist actually DO?  How are you different from a music teacher, or a regular therapist?

Great question!  A music therapist uses music as a tool within a therapeutic relationship, to address non-musical goals. Those individualized goals can be cognitive, communicative, emotional, musical, physical, social, or spiritual (according to the Canadian Association of Music Therapy).  Music has a fantastic ‘backstage pass’ to all of these areas of life that can be tapped into with skill and training.

Music teachers, on the other hand, have specific musical goals, such as working towards a certain level on piano. And a regular therapist uses other tools or training to work towards similar goals as music therapists.

So, to put it simply, sometimes a music therapy session may outwardly look like a music lesson, or a therapy session – or neither!  However, the goal within the music therapy session might be to work towards a performance to boost confidence and self-esteem, or to adapt an instrument so that the client can use it for emotional identification and expression.  

Music therapists often team up with other therapists though to work towards the same, non-musical goals with a client.  At NowWhat, I’m looking forward to collaborating with the whole team!  There’s lots of crossover between speech therapy, occupational therapy, and psychotherapy where music can be a valuable collaborative tool.

Why did you decide to become a Music Therapist?  Is it what you thought it would be when you started your training?

I actually had no idea what music therapy would look like on a practical level until I was in the thick of my degree (due to growing up in Cairo where I couldn’t shadow any music therapists)! I decided to pursue music therapy after reading a book called “Musicophilia” by Oliver Sacks where he talks about the power of music in the brain. It just clicked for me and I wanted to be able to offer help to those who didn’t find success in other types of therapy. In the past, I also volunteered in programs working with migrants and refugees and thought that music therapy could be a powerful tool. I am thankful to say that although I had no idea what I was getting into, I love it!

Do you have a favourite ‘success story’ from your past experience with Music Therapy?

Last year, I was working with someone who was having trouble with any sort of emotional expression, as well as confidence and self-esteem. If I asked him verbally what was bothering him, he wouldn’t speak for the rest of the session. Then one day, through his own initiative, we began to label various instruments as emotions. Through time and instrumental improvisations, he slowly began to express his emotions through the music in ways that felt safe and non-threatening.  He was also able to perform a medley of Christmas songs for his peers at the end of the year. My favourite moment was hearing him say how proud he was to have pulled that off!  

What’s something that people often get wrong about Music Therapy?

A lot of people call music therapy “Musical Therapy”, which I find pretty amusing because it sounds like a party game! On a more serious note, I think a lot of people secretly expect that I can just prescribe them a special type of music that will instantly cure them.  In reality, there is no best kind of music, and music therapy really requires that ongoing therapeutic relationship to guide the sessions and work towards the clinical goal.  While I won’t say that music isn’t a little bit magical – music therapy is like any other mode of therapy, it takes commitment, engagement, and a skilled therapist to lead to lasting positive change.

What’s your favourite instrument, and why?

Ooh, that’s a very tough question to answer!  In general, I love the deep resonance of the cello.  I’ve heard it called the instrument of the heart before, and I completely agree. I’m lucky enough to be learning it currently!  Otherwise, I love playing the viola when I’m in a band, since I can play around with harmonies, and I love singing, and playing piano when I’m alone since I can play both chords and melody.  Every instrument has something unique to offer!

What’s something you’re looking forward to when you join the team at NowWhat in the new year?

I am super excited to learn from everyone!  I am very thankful to have been welcomed into such a talented team.  I’m also looking forward to joining Social Sundays, which I’ve heard are a blast for all involved!

I’m intrigued!  How do I access music therapy at NowWhat?

We can’t wait to welcome Dana to the team.  Currently, we’re building a list of interested clients (if this is you, please get in touch!), collecting instruments, and furnishing the spacious new music room to create a new home for music therapy in Ancaster!
We’ll be offering a variety of ways to access music therapy at NowWhat:

  • In-home visits for people with accessibility challenges or where therapeutically beneficial in the Ancaster/Hamilton area
  • Blocks of 6-12 individual or small group (3:1) sessions with targeted goals
  • Blocks of 12 adapted music lessons for children teens, and adults who aren’t able to participate in standard music lessons
  • 6 week focused intro to music therapy group
  • Drop-in visits from Dana to enhance our various camp, PA day, life skills and social skills programs.

You can call us at 289 678 0581 to put your name on the waitlist for individual or small group sessions with Dana in February of 2022!