April 30, 2009

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Music as medicine
Concord Hospital brings healing harmonies to patients
By Katie Beth Ryan music@hippopress.com

The certified music practitioners in Concord Hospital’s Music for Healing and Comfort program want to be very clear about one thing: they are not music therapists.

“The difference is that with music therapy you have a goal to change a patient’s behavior. They have goals the client needs to meet,” said Emily Mills, a CMP who plays piano to patients several times a week.

“What we do as practitioners is focus on changing the environment to be more therapeutic. The only thing the patient has to do is be there and give permission.”

Mills travels an hour from her home in Spofford to play for patients as part of the program, which began in April of last year at the hospital under the umbrella of its Arts in Healing program. Armed with a grant from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, Alice Kinsler, director of the Therapeutic Arts and Activity Service at the hospital, set out to bring a therapeutic music program to patients.

“We’d had volunteer musicians for quite a few years, having some extraordinary visits with patients that really made a huge difference,” she said. “I felt that the next level was being able to bring them something that was really meaningful and also very specifically designed for a clinical setting.”

Mills, harpist Anne Bewley and guitarist Beverly Rush together bring a range of experiences to the program. Mills is a retired special education teacher, Bewley a retired professor of psychology at Colby-Sawyer College, and Rush is a professional musician with several CDs for sale. Each had to go through 90 hours of training to become a CMP through a training program at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, followed by an internship in a medical setting.

Kinsler said that patients are referred to CMPs by doctors, nurses, case workers and clinicians in situations where it is believed that a therapeutic music session may be soothing. Sessions at Concord Hospital last for a minimum of 20 minutes to allow patients to receive the full healing nature that time with a CMP can bring. The music that is played depends on the patient’s needs, but is typically soft and simple, and can be adjusted based on a patient’s heart pattern or respiratory rate.

“They play in patients’ rooms, and they really start the dialogue, the patient,” Kinsler said. “Very much they play on request. Those volunteers have a pretty large repertoire of music. …While it feels like a one-on-one performance, there’s absolutely a therapeutic benefit.”

And the benefits don’t stop with the patient. The Music for Healing and Comfort Program has been used to ease the pains associated with childbirth, and to facilitate the dying process as well. Because music is a shared experience, Mills says, it can bring a family together during an emotional time.

“Very often, when you begin to play, family members will begin to cry,” she said. “I’ve had people say to me, ‘Thank you. I wasn’t able to cry before.’ It’s just a great, great feeling to help people through the grieving process.”