Music: Medicine of the Mind

Music inspires movement, memories and stimulates the mind. Research has shown that listening to music is the only sensory experience that activates all areas of the brain simultaneously and has a powerful effect on the body and psyche. As a result, there is a growing field of healthcare known as music therapy, which uses music to heal. 

The Music Therapy program at Sam Houston State University is one of the few in Texas and the nation. SHSU undergraduate and graduate students use music to help patients with dementia, children with ADHD, autism, and many other needs, whether they have cognitive, physical, social or language goals.

“We are using music in all of its facets to address client needs,” Carolyn Moore, assistant professor and a neurologic music therapist said. “The ultimate goal is not to necessarily improve our patient’s musical skills, but to really make a lasting change in an area that will help them develop and thrive in their lives.”

According to Moore, an SHSU music therapist can be found at every surrounding medical facility in the greater Houston area and beyond. In fact, the most famous and public music therapy case involves a Sam Houston alumna. 

Meagan Morrow ’02, is a board-certified music therapist and a certified brain injury specialist at TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston, Texas. Morrow is well known for her work with patient and former Arizona congresswoman, Gabrielle Gifford, who, in 2011, survived an assassination attempt which left her critically injured and unable to walk or talk. To this day, Gifford credits her recovery to Morrow and music therapy, for retraining her brain after the shooting. 

On campus, the Music Therapy program offers a fully functioning clinic which serves as a teaching tool.

The clinic has a therapy room, an office and an observation room with a two-way mirror so families can watch their children while they’re in therapy, or parents will give their child’s therapist permission to observe. The clinic also comes equipped with a full range of instruments, like pianos, guitars and percussion. 

“The clinic is a great asset to the community because we have people coming in who would not have access to services otherwise because they live in rural areas."

— Carolyn Moore

Alumnus Sarah Lynn Rossi (’16, ’18), a board-certified music therapist and adjunct professor, credits Sam Houston State for laying a solid foundation for achieving her goals. 

“The SHSU Music Therapy program has continued to grow and prosper throughout my time serving both as a student, graduate assistant and now adjunct instructor,” Rossi said. “We are blessed to be able to provide opportunities for students to work in a variety of settings not only within our on-campus music therapy clinic, but within our community.” 

The music therapy profession has long recognized the importance of research to inform the education and training of therapists and establish evidence-based practices to improve quality of care and access to services. As the field evolves, SHSU faculty and staff remain committed to change with it. A major goal of the program is to demonstrate how music therapists can successfully collaborate with other disciplines.

Rossi currently partners with a therapeutic riding facility on how music therapy techniques can be successfully implemented within therapeutic horse-riding sessions for the benefit of individuals with special needs. In addition, Moore is exploring how group music therapy can address the unique strengths and needs of children diagnosed with ADHD. This population is largely absent from music therapy research literature. 

“No one has looked at these kiddos and seen how music is helpful for them to develop better focus and better executive functioning so they can really thrive in their educational environments, in their experiences, and at home,” Moore said.

The program also has a partnership with the Windham School District, the department that serves the Texas prison population. They offer music therapy services to a group of men, ages 17-18, in the Youthful Offenders Program. For three hours a day, over three weeks, members of the Music Therapy program facilitated music classes as a reward for those that earned the privilege. 

“The district wanted to offer these men something meaningful to encourage and motivate them to get through their time with good behavior,” Moore said. “The school district purchased brand-new equipment, guitars, basses, electric keyboards, drum sets and also brought in DJ equipment. We spent three weeks learning music and performing it for special administration and guests. Also, some of the young men wrote their own music and used the DJ system and computer to create beats for their original music. It was a very meaningful and positive experience.”

For those like Moore, Rossi and Morrow, who are musically talented and oriented towards helping, music therapy is an ideal profession.

“If students have a background as a musician with a desire to serve others through creativity, compassion, and dedication, the Music Therapy program is certainly a great career path,” Rossi said. “This field is a way for people to use their talents to connect with others and really make a difference.”

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