“They say music can alter moods and talk to you” is a quote from Eminem’s song Sing for the Moment; these words ring out as more than just lyrics in the case of music therapist Russell Peters, as his whole profession is based around this idea.
Peters is the only registered music therapist working in Thompson at the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM). The practice of music therapy is brand new to Thompson, and is still in its infant stages in Manitoba.
On April 5, Peters hosted a “Durbar” lunch at the AFM, looking at how music can be used to help clients in situations of addiction.
The misconceptions about what a music therapist does are numerous, explained Peters, while clarifying that there is more to the job than just playing music for people.
“What we as music therapists do is use music as our primary tool to build, facilitate and maintain a therapeutic relationship, and in the process, promote positive change,” said Peters.
Music therapists must be educated in a combination of music and psychology, and also be skilled in an array of musical formats, from instruments such as the piano and guitar, as well as vocal.
Peters is a one-man band of sorts, and was equipped with an array of instruments on April 5, playing the guitar, harmonica, and drum, while also singing.
The affect of music in regards to its tie to the memory is powerful explained Peters, and it can be a very useful tool in creating a positive experience.
“It’s really quite amazing, that you can hear a song that might have a certain significance to you and you’re almost transported back to when you first heard that song,” said Peters, “our brains are hardwired for music, and the physiology of the brain actually changes in response to music. We have some people who struggle with dementia and are almost completely disconnected from the world, but you play their favorite song from when they were 20 years old, and they’re almost immediately responsive to it.”
Music, for many people, is a coping mechanism, and can be a key to opening up and communicating about problems or issues.
“How many times have you heard a song where you stop and think, hey that’s what I’m going through right now,” said Peters, “you realize that someone else is or has gone through the same thing, and wrote a song about it.”
The connections built through music are a pillar in the music therapy field, as it is a non-verbal form of communication, and many people in therapy can be hesitant about opening up verbally.
“Self-expression is a big thing; a lot of people aren’t comfortable to sit and talk to a group of semi-strangers,” said Peters, “music is a really useful way of taking a sort of backdoor approach.”
There are four different experiences within the sessions; they include: performance, composition, improvisation, and listening. All of which are fairly self-explanatory, and are utilized at different stages of a patient’s treatment.
Music therapy sessions can vary in the dynamic and length and approach. There are group or individual sessions, and can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Group sessions are generally longer, and more in the 45 minutes to an hour range.