music therapy in action by emilia richter

On a Friday morning, I took some time off from school to go to the Cleveland Clinic. I was about to observe Laura McFee, a certified music therapist, as she visited some patients. I was excited for the observation, but I didn’t know what to expect. This was the first time I was ever going to see music therapy in action.

Laura was very kind and welcoming, and she was open to any questions I had throughout the observation. She explained to me that as a music therapist, she runs around a lot — patients are referred to her from all over the hospital. Usually, they are referred by their doctors, because most patients aren’t aware that the Clinic has music therapy. Many don’t even know what music therapy is. For that reason, some of the patients Laura visits aren’t very open to participating. Luckily, when they are given more information about music therapy and how it can help them, they usually change their minds.

That morning, we walked to several different areas of the Clinic, visiting patients. First, I would stand outside the room as Laura tested the waters — she needed to evaluate how the patient was doing and if music therapy would be beneficial in that moment. If the patient gave the okay, I would walk in and observe the rest of the process.

One of the patients Laura helped was an elderly man who had just left the Intensive Care Unit. He was having some trouble breathing, and he was feeling pretty stressed. Before she could start playing, Laura needed to know more about her patient and his likes/dislikes. She used friendly conversation to evaluate what kind of music the man wanted to hear in that moment.

As it turned out, the elderly man loved marching band music, and exciting orchestral works by Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. Of course, Laura couldn’t reproduce this with her voice, keyboard, guitar, or drums, but luckily she had an iPad with her. After listening to some of his favorite pieces, the man seemed a little less tense, but he wanted to hear more. That’s when Laura used her musical skills to sing a couple patriotic songs, self-accompanied on keyboard and then guitar. The man closed his eyes and truly relaxed.

All in all, I think this observation was an incredible learning experience. I loved getting to see what music therapy in a clinical setting is like in person. I also really enjoyed getting to witness the powerful effects it can have on a sick patient. I’m excited to learn more about this amazing use of music!

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