Music therapy department strives to help patients reach life goals

Music therapy students and Julie Berghofer, assistant director of music therapy clinic, in Music Therapy Improvisation class. Photo Credit: Madison Kaufmann / Daily Sundial
Music therapy students and Julie Berghofer, assistant director of music therapy clinic, in Music Therapy Improvisation class. Photo Credit: Madison Kaufmann / Daily Sundial

A shy guy who barely talks is able to fill in the blanks to a song. A girl who never spoke blurted out the word flowers. A young man who needs physical help is now able to move his head side-to-side on his own.

After only a few sessions of hands-on music therapy with Thomas Newbold, music therapy graduate student, patients’ motor skills have increased.

“It gives you a sense of feeling that you are doing something important and worthwhile,” Newbold said.

CSUN and the University of the Pacific are the only approved schools in California that offer degrees in music therapy, according to the American Music Therapy Association.

CSUN graduates scored 13 percent higher than the national average in 2010-11, said Ronald Borczon professor and founder of CSUN’s music therapy department.

Music therapy uses music to help people reach a goal in their life, combining music with the therapist-client relationship, Borczon said.

Students in the program said one of its great characteristics is diversity.

“It’s not geared towards one specific population,” said Elissa Ruiz, senior and president of the Music Therapy Association of Northridge. “It covers all populations, from very high functioning individuals to individuals with disabilities.”

After students complete two years in college, and perform a six-month, full-time, hands-on internship in the field, they are eligible to take a test with the certification board for music therapy.

Newbold, who wants to operate a music education center, sings, plays drums, percussion, guitar and piano.  His internship has him working at a community living center for adults with developmental disabilities, and teaching preschool music full-time.

“Music can help you communicate or talk to patients without words, which can be very helpful for people who can’t talk,” Newbold said. “It is really interesting learning about the powers of music on the brain.”

People want evidence-based therapy to show it works, Borczon said.

Music therapists do their own experiments and trial and error during sessions to see what works and what doesn’t, Ruiz said.

“It is a great field to be in right now because it is booming and there are so many ways to get involved, as far as research is concerned,” Ruiz said.

But music therapy students may have to create a job for themselves when they graduate, because there aren’t many opportunities for music therapists to work in a school district or hospital, where music therapy is expensive because insurance generally does not cover the service, Ruiz added.

“Often times an individual who has a stroke can sing, but can’t talk,” Ruiz said. “It’s a long process and it takes a lot of time and persistence to get those kind of results.”

Music for relaxation is used as background music, otherwise therapists try to engage clients as much as possible, whether that means singing, dancing or playing the instrument, Ruiz said. Therapists will play instruments for some clients who are immobile or have severe disabilities.

“It is such a broad based discipline that most any situation given to us we can find a musical intervention to help in that situation,” Borczon said.

CSUN students can use the campus’ music therapy clinic, located in Cypress Hall.