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How Music Therapy Helps Residents in Healthcare

How Music Therapy Helps Residents in Healthcare

Jan. 29th, 2021

Music is one of the many joys in life that moves us: it encourages people to be active through dancing, ignites creativity through the stories it tells, and evokes memories of different eras.

Music therapy helps the residents at long-term care communities by bringing out the best in them.

To learn how music therapy works, we interviewed two music therapists: Deborah Boss-Cadet and Jennifer Cossman.

Boss-Cadet has worked in music therapy for over thirty-two years, and she is currently the Life Enrichment Director at Bryn Mawr Extended Care Center. She is married to a musician from Haiti, Moe Cadet, who also works at Bryn Mawr, and together they have raised money for concerts for those in Haiti.

Boss-Cadet has used music therapy to help people from a variety of backgrounds, including those with developmental disabilities, hospice, youth, and more. She said she enjoys her job because her skills can be used in different ways at a nursing home.

“I get to work with a variety of people here. I don’t like to be stuck in one place,” Boss-Cadet said. “I did an internship with senior citizens and found love with helping them. I also enjoy the challenge of working with younger individuals.”

Cossman is a board certified Music Therapist at Liberty Ridge Health & Rehab where she works as the Life Enrichment Director. Cossman has experience helping in different settings such as adults who have intellectual disabilities, hospice, and private practices. She also has worked with children who have emotional needs.

Cossman began her career at Saber Healthcare after working in a private practice for fourteen years. She said they were thriving, then COVID-19 happened and she needed stability.

“It’s been a wonderful place to be and I’m so fortunate that this became available,” Cossman said.

What does your job entail on a daily basis?

We asked Boss-Cadet and Cossman what their job entails on a daily basis.

Before COVID-19, Boss-Cadet said that she would have drumming circles with the residents. This is one of her favorite activities, and she has over thirty drums.

“Anyone can play the drums. Drumming makes people use their entire body,” Boss-Cadet said.

She also shared that they have a choir here for the holidays and teach people how to sing. She incorporates different music and rhythms in the programs. Boss-Cadet also teaches people how to dance.

With the pandemic, Boss-Cadet explains that they have adapted the music programs for safety. One activity the residents are able to still participate is in karaoke, but it is socially distanced. She also said that she and her husband still play music in the hallways so the residents don’t miss out on live music.

Cossman spends a lot of her time meeting new residents. After she learns a bit about who they are, she tries to incorporate ideas into helping them adjust to their lives at the community. She also takes into account if the person is here for the short or long-term.

Cossman also works on calendars, plans activities, fills out paperwork, and spends time brainstorming with the managers and floor staff to figure out ways to make their jobs easier.

“When I hear a resident is having a problem, I’ll see if there’s anything I can do with an activity or music therapy to try to help them or calm them down. I always assess what they need,” Cossman said.

What sparked your interest in the Music Therapy field?

We asked Cossman and Boss-Cadet how they began their music therapy journey.

“My mom loves this story. When I was in high school, I thought I wanted to be a Physical Therapist. I was in band and loved music, but didn’t think of any way for music to be a career. I knew I wanted to help people,” Cossman said.

She said that one day her mother came home with a Reader’s Digest article about music therapy. As soon as she read it, she knew she wanted to pursue that career path. She felt like the job was a calling out to her.

Boss-Cadet began her career in music therapy when she took a career assessment where she scored high in both music and psychology. She talked to her counselor, who helped her discover what music therapy was.

Since then, Boss-Cadet has learned to play over one-hundred instruments. She said this field called to her and that she even uses music therapy for herself, practicing holistic care and meditation.

“I’m really passionate about music. When I interview other people, I try to find what they love and what really moves them. If they don’t have a passion, I’ll help them find it,” Boss-Cadet said.

Can you give an example of how music therapy works?

In order to better understand music therapy, we asked Boss-Cadet and Cossman to give us some examples that they have used to help residents succeed in the past.

“Just like a physical therapist helps a person meet a physical goal, we also have specific goals in mind as well as tools to meet them. A music therapist uses music to meet those goals,” Cossman said.

She gave an example where she saw a resident who looked anxious and confused. Cossman used her music therapy training and listened to her concerns. She also was able to utilize her clinical and psychology training to help her. Cossman sang hymns with the resident because the resident finds strength in her faith, and the lyrics spoke to her emotional needs.

Boss-Cadet says that our bodies physically respond to music. She explained that we will react differently to music we grew up with versus a song that we’re hearing for the first time.

“Music goes into all of the aspects of your life and has the potential to heal any one of those things whether it’s physical, spiritual, cognition, or anything that you need help with,” Boss-Cadet said. She strongly believes in holistic healing and believes it is important to find what heals you.

The example Boss-Cadet gave us was someone with a bad stroke learning to sing. She said that their brains still have a chemical reaction to music and they can start using sounds to communicate.

What are some of the activities you’ve done with music therapy in the past?

There are many activities Cossman and Boss-Cadet have done to help our residents.

Boss-Cadet and Cossman said their communities have held karaoke, group singing, instrument lessons, caroling, and dance parties.

What is required to become a music therapist?

In order to become a music therapist, Boss-Cadet and Cossman shared that you need to complete an undergrad in music therapy. It is also required to have an understanding of psychology as well as a talent for music to do this.

“You have to audition to get into a music therapy program. Then once you get a BA, you need to become board certified and take a test overseen by music therapists,” Boss-Cadet said.

“Taking music therapy isn’t always a dual degree. I majored in music and minored in psychology, then completed a six-month internship. For me, that was four and a half years of education,” Cossman said.

Cossman also shared that every five years, you need to re-certify your board certification.

What kind of Music do you use for Music Therapy?

Both Cossman and Boss-Cadet mentioned that they use different types of music for the residents. It always depends on their needs and what motivates them. The resident will often take an assessment so the therapists can learn about them.

“If I don’t know the resident, I take in their surroundings. Usually a family member will guide me, and I will base everything on what that person needs right then and there,” Cossman said. “The best part about music therapy is I can see how they respond to the music, and change the music to fit their needs.”

“I love working with people and music. Music has an effect on people. For example, if someone doesn’t like rap it can irritate them. We have to find the music that speaks to our residents,” Boss-Cadet said.

What is your favorite part about your job?

Cossman said, “I love the residents. They make me laugh so hard and they’re just funny people. I want them to know that they’re being heard and seen for the people they are. I just look forward to seeing all of them. It’s a wonderful experience.”

Boss-Cadet said, “The people! The residents! They inspire me every day and I enjoy seeing them. I help them because they are like part of my extended family. Sometimes when we lose one it’s hard, but I always focus back on the ones that are here and motivate them. I also try to empower them. For example, we did Toys for Tots this year and the residents helped with that.”

Saber Healthcare Support Music Therapy!

Music Therapy is essential to helping our residents discover themselves through different types of music. We’re proud of all the work our music therapy team has done to bring joy into the residents’ lives.

“It’s a joy to work with people who are learning and I even used to take in students because I like to teach. I want to make sure the things I learned are passed onto another generation and reach out to the community and help them. Music is intergenerational,” Boss-Cadet said.

“Guided Imagery & Music (GIM) is one technique that I use to help people. It allows the client or person to delve deep into their own strengths and needs and find how they can meet their own needs using music. It’s more a traditional type of counseling using music,” Cossman said.

Are you interested in joining a music therapy team? Check out our open positions!