The healing power of music-Garden Grove-based music therapist Roberta Adler lives it.
What is music therapy?
Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music-therapy program. In other words, music therapy is similar in what it wants to accomplish to occupational therapy, or physical therapy, or speech therapy. You might call them growth therapies. There's a specific objective to obtain, and the therapist has a specialized protocol in developing a treatment plan. Music therapists treat using music.
What are some of the objectives people want to reach through music therapy?
Music therapists will generally focus on what we would call domains. An example is speech and language. If a person wishes to improve their communication skills, the therapist will design musical interventions to enhance the person's skills in that domain. For instance, we sometimes see someone who has had a stroke and has difficulty communicating with other people and is frustrated by that. There are people who are able to sing rather than speak. They can communicate completely to other people through singing. The idea is to engage the person in a musical process to achieve an unmusical goal and be able to fade out the musical process, leaving the person with the skills that he or she desires. We can use imagination and creativity, but whatever we use should be appropriate for the client's age and abilities to participate successfully, and it must be channeled into the nonmusical goal. To participate in music therapy, a person needs no previous musical experience at all. It is the responsibility of the music therapist to engage a person in a musical process that is appropriate and pleasing to the client.
Is it more tied to music or psychiatry?
Music therapy began in Veterans Administration hospitals after World War II. However, music therapists continue to expand their services to people in need. We serve neonatal intensive-care units, developmental disabilities, gerontology—elders, in other words. The list is almost endless. Music therapists work in trauma, in almost anything you can imagine. My practice focuses on the clinical areas of psychiatry, developmental disabilities and gerontology. Many therapists focus in only one.
In a setting like neonatal intensive care, is the idea that music has a physical effect on people?
There are absolute biological changes, yes. Different people are going to respond to different types of music. Some of it is biological. Some of it is cultural.
How did you become a music therapist?
My background is opera. My major instrument is voice. I'm a lyric coloratura soprano. I have performing experience. I originally thought that I would have a career as a singer. In order to begin my university education [at Wayne State University], I needed money. I had to go to work. I found work as a secretary in the health department of Detroit, Michigan. They assigned me to the public-health nursing division. I discovered I loved working with people. I had no idea working with people and being a professional musician could be combined into one profession. One day, I received notice about a career day at the university I graduated from, and listed among the careers was music therapy. I had never heard the term music therapy before, but I did not need it defined. It was instant understanding. I knew at that time what my life's work was.
When did you come to Orange County?
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I arrived in 1978.
Was there anything unique to being a music therapist in Orange County?
My particular practice is Mobile Music Therapy Services of Orange County, and I could not literally be mobile in any other climate because my business runs out of an Astro van, and I carry all of my equipment with me, hundreds of pounds of it. It certainly wouldn't be a good idea to try to push that through snow and ice. That's the greatest advantage I've found in Orange County, along with the wonderful people I've been associated with.
For more information, visit www.mobilemusictherapy.com.