By Ray Leone, MMT, MT-BC
Ray is a Board-Certified music therapist who directs A Place To Be’s medical music therapy program through a partnership with Inova Health Systems.
Music is an in-the-moment experience. You hear a song and in that moment, you feel something; you may feel uplifted, melancholy, have a great memory of a special time and place, experience reminiscence for a lost friend. Music takes you from where you are to another place.
This is one of the reasons why music can be so powerful in a medical setting, especially in the units that care for those who are very ill. Music cannot cure in the traditional sense. As a music therapist I cannot “fix” things. And this was a hard concept for me to overcome when I first started visiting patients who were very ill. I couldn’t “fix” anything. But…I could help. I could help, ‘in the moment’. I could give them a reprieve, some hope, a cathartic experience to let go for a few moments, reduce anxiety, a relaxation experience, a means of expressing feelings, a connection. Sometimes, I can just give them a moment.
On a recent day at the hospital where I provide music therapy services, I saw many patients with anxiety and pain, many who were feeling as if there was no hope. And music appeared to help, in some way, with stress and comfort. However, there was a rather beautiful moment when I was visiting a woman in her 80s, at the end of the day. She is quite ill with various issues, including some pain and perhaps some psychosocial needs. She’s been in the hospital for awhile. When I entered her darkened room, she was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling with a rather pained look on her face. She barely looked at me when I introduced myself and didn’t speak, although the slight eye contact we had let me know that she was aware of my presence. I just started playing some soft music for her and then added a bit of humming and quiet singing, trying to present a comfortable soundscape for her while also addressing her pain and emotional needs. She closed her eyes occasionally, but mostly continued to stare off. After about 20 minutes, some of her family came to visit including her husband, who walked over and sat in a chair across the room. They all seemed pleased to have me and the music and were all smiling and looking towards her as I concluded what I was playing. I wasn’t sure if she was aware that they were present as she continued to stare off towards the ceiling. I then greeted the family and asked her if she would like one more song and she subtly nodded “yes”. Her husband asked if I knew “any Elvis” and I smiled and started playing and singing ‘Love Me Tender’. As if on cue, she looked over at him (the first time she wasn’t staring off) and as she held his gaze…he started to cry. But, she smiled at him and through his tears, he smiled back at her. They continued to look and smile at each other, truly connecting with this song, in a way that was completely different then before this particular song was presented. As I concluded, she looked at me, with a slight smile and softly said, “that was beautiful”. Those were the first words she spoke to me and as I left, her family were all around her for a visit. I certainly don’t know what tomorrow will bring for her, but for a moment today, a simple song helped connect her with her husband in a moment that was quite beautiful. Today, music gave her, and her husband, a moment…
Love me tender
Love me sweet
Never let me go
You have made
My life complete
And I love you so
The healing power of music…
(*the stories presented in this blog are based on accounts and experiences and are not actual accounts and experiences)