Music therapists help clients realize their potential

November 6, 2013 | Young Voices
Rachel Bergen | Young Voices Co-editor

The choirs, bands and performers at Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) produce some of the most beautiful music around, but a few graduates are using music to help people achieve non-musical goals.

Lori Schroeder

Twenty-two-year-old Lori Schroeder is a contract music therapist who works with different day and school programs to help people from all walks of life by promoting, maintaining and restoring their health. Schroeder graduated from CMU in 2013 with a bachelor of music degree majoring in music therapy.

“Music is my tool, but I’m not there to help them sing better or get the notes,” she says. “It’s not about the music. We work on communication, self-esteem, self-expression, motor skills. . . . All these things can be worked on through music.”

One of Schroeder’s jobs involves directing a choir at Norshell, a non-profit organization that supports adults with intellectual disabilities. The choir members have something to work for and take pride in, Schroeder says, but it’s not about being the best-sounding choir.

Since entering the workforce, Schroeder has worked with many clients, but one she feels she made a difference with was a tough-looking, 26-year-old assault victim. While she was working in a hospital, he was admitted with a brain injury. He was so badly beaten he had lost the use of his voice for a period of time.

After he regained his voice, Schroeder and the patient discovered they had a mutual taste for country music, so they developed a relationship involving singing and being goofy together.

“What began as techniques to help him develop his speech and breath capacity developed into a special relationship,” she says, “and music therapy did so much more for him than help him with speech goals. Music connected us, and allowed him to be goofy and express himself and his feelings.”

Being able to help people, connect with them and use her musical talent is a gift, she says, adding, “I feel like my spiritual life and my relationship with God [have] a lot to do with why I practise music therapy. I’m doing it because God put a passion in me to help people and to help people through music. And CMU helped foster, encourage and facilitate that in me.”

According to Jennifer Lin, the director of CMU’s music therapy program, the school is glad to be able to help students enter the workforce, but also hopes they will use their faith-based education to help others. “It is our hope that the overall learning experience would continue to evolve and positively influence their life journey beyond the classroom,” Lin says.

CMU has since hired Schroeder to work for the Community School of Music and the Arts as a music therapist for both group and one-on-one clients.

Erin Koop

Twenty-six-year-old Erin Koop is another graduate of CMU’s music therapy program. She works as a contract music therapist for Expressions Music Therapy Services, Café Music School and other places.

Before starting as a music student at CMU and getting out in the field, she wasn’t very aware of its therapeutic applications. “I didn’t really know a lot about music therapy at all before I came to CMU,” she says. “My practicum and internship experiences were the most real for me.”

Since graduating, Koop has made her mark on many clients, but recently she’s been working with an elementary student doing songwriting. “Most of the time we write songs about goats that win eating contests,” she says with a laugh. “One time we had this amazing conversation about what he wanted to be and how the world is always changing.”

Koop played a melody while the boy sang, “I want to find my destiny, the place in this world.”

“It was really amazing to connect with this client on that level,” she says.

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