By Amy Onorato
QUEENS, N.Y – Every morning at 11 a.m, Richard Rossicone, a music therapist, takes out his acoustic guitar and serenades the ninth floor residents of Ozanam Hall Nursing Home.
Ruth, one of Rossicone’s patients, benefits from Rossicone’s sessions in a variety of ways. She is a permanent resident of Ozanam Nursing Home in Bayside, Queens. When she first entered the home, she refused to leave her room out of fear. But Rossicone’s music enabled her to socialize and feel at home.
“Richard’s music made me feel better about being in a new place,” Ruth said.
Later on in the session, Ruth requested a song titled “Daisy.” When Rossicone asked her why she chose that song, she replied:
“My mother’s name was Daisy. It just popped into my head, I’ve been humming it all day.”
“Music bridges the past to what is happening now,” Rossicone said.
For the elderly and mentally disadvantaged, alternative medicine can be music to a patient’s ears. Music therapy has emerged as a popular form of integrative treatment that works alongside conventional medicine. According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for recreational therapists is expected to increase by up to 15 percent over the next ten years due to population increases in school children and elderly adults.
“We’re in a place now where people want music therapy,” Natasha Thomas, MT-BC, said.
However, music therapy is not recognized as a singular entity by most states. As of now, only three states in the nation offer licenses specifically for music therapy on a legislative level. The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) as well as individual groups of music therapy advocates are working towards promoting the establishment of licenses across the country.
“Once someone is licensed, healthcare and insurance companies will be more likely to fund music therapy,” Thomas said. “Clients have increased access to services.”
Thomas worked extensively with advocating for licensing in North Dakota. In March of 2011, North Dakota passed a bill that recognized music therapists as a private entity separate from other recreational therapists and created a registry of licensed therapists accessible to the public.
“This bill is important because then other people can’t claim that what they do is music therapy,” Thomas said. “It protects us and it protects our patients.”
Music therapy is used to stimulate the brain and promote different levels of cognitive function tailored for different patients. The therapy promotes socialization, memory stimulation and behavioral training for those with mental disabilities such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and autism.
According to a study done by the Carlos Albizu University and the Miami Children’s Hospital, music therapy intervention has shown to improve social and cognitive attention skills by up to 70 percent in children with autism.
“Music is processed so complexly in the brain that even if there is physical damage, you can still provoke a reaction and a musical experience,” Richard Rossicone said.
Across the country, 60 percent of hospice centers offer some kind of music therapy program.
For children with autism, music therapy is used to promote and regulate behavior in a classroom setting. Blythe Lagasse, Ph.D MT-BC from Colorado works with children using group music therapy.
“I would create a social story song, then practice the social skill with the song, and eventually fade the song once the child has mastered the behavior. This would occur in real settings so that the skill is learned through the music. In this way, we can use music to help meet nonmusical functional goals,” Lagasse said.
According to the AMTA, over 25 states advocated over the past year to establish music therapy as a professional service and to grant licenses to therapists.
In New York, state legislature grants music therapists licenses under the License for Creative Arts Therapy (LCAT) as well as the Music Therapy Board Certification (MTBC). In Colorado, advocacy for board certification is still progress.
The AMTA also encourages student participation. Approximately 72 colleges across the country offer music therapy as a major and participation in these programs is growing.
“When I was at the University of North Dakota, we only had seven students in the music therapy program. Now there are 30 students. The program is booming,” Thomas said.
“We currently have a total of 132 music therapy majors (including undergrad, graduate, and distance students). We have experienced an increase in students, likely due to recent media coverage of music therapy,” Lagasse said. Lagasse works at Colorado State University.
Music therapy has been practiced since the 1800s. Only now is it getting the recognized as a legitimate form of integrative medicine.
“We’ve finally broken through the threshold of being seen on a really public scale,” Thomas said. “Slowly and surely it will come.”