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Music provides key to healing

By Tammy Scileppi

Whether you’re riding the No. 7 train or the Q60 bus, you’re probably plugged into your favorite tunes as a relaxing way to start your day and transition into work mode.

Are you feeling transformed? That’s the power of music.

Sometimes dealing with challenging life situations and restoring calm to your chaotic life requires more than traditional psychotherapy. Music therapy is a option that can help with a variety of issues, including depression and anxiety.

Some researchers believe counseling and the addition of music therapy allow people to better express their emotions and reflect on their inner feelings, reveal their true strengths and even enhance communication skills when words alone aren’t enough to express their innermost angst.

“Music is a language. It is invasive,” Susan Long, music therapist and Sunnyside resident, said. “Even if you are deaf, we hear, because it is a sensory experience — not only using the ears but the vibrations penetrate our bodies and our body vibrates sympathetically. Our heart beats rhythmically. We breathe rhythmically. Therefore, every aspect of our being can be described in musical terms.”

Long, a certified music therapist, says music therapy invites healing into your life. Born in Iowa, she grew up in Wisconsin and lived for 30 years in Rome. She moved to Queens 1 1/2 years ago. “Queens has a more human, livable pace. My daughter lives in New York, and I wanted a change,” she said. “Sunnyside offered the best quality of life and is lovely, with all the trees. It is easily accessible to any part of New York City, thanks to the 7, and not really that far from Manhattan.” Sitting in her cozy home office, Long strummed her guitar — one of the tools used in her therapy workshops — and talked about her journey.

“I started on this path originally to heal myself,” she said.

Then, she knew she wanted to help others through her love of music.

“Choosing MT seemed the next logical step to the studies I had already done and the ‘legalization’ of my skills, giving me a title and enabling me to work also with the title of therapist, as well as teacher,” she said. “I passed the national certification exam one week ago. Therefore, I am a BC-MT, a board certified music therapist. This means I can practice legally anywhere in the U.S.A. I also did my master’s in MT, a 1,500-hour practicum, and a tough exam.”

Ask Long and she’ll tell you: Whether you’re a music lover or not, sing off key or can carry a tune, when you experience music in a psycho-therapeutic setting, it can be transformative.

Through proven musical intervention techniques she has helped patients who have experienced grief or lacked emotional expression.

Helping a brain-injured child to build her cognitive skills through responses to music is a powerful thing. As is the ability to lessen the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder during group therapy. And, with activities such as drumming, Alzheimer’s patients have learned to de-stress.

“It has been found that we naturally connect to whomever we are with through these individual body rhythms and tend to synchronize. As therapists, we recognize someone’s body rhythms and mirror those musically to connect to them. This is called the ISO principle and the act of connecting is called entrainment,” she said. “For example, with autism, where the client has extreme communication skill limitations and therefore difficulty connecting linguistically and visually, we can connect to them musically and begin creating a relationship, finding another ‘language’ to communicate through.”

Long points out that music is a right brain activity while language is left brain. The addition of music provides another way to get inside the patient’s mind, she said.

Because music is so prevalent in our society used in a variety of mediums, such as advertising, film and TV, to generate various responses, there is more than one form of music therapy, Long said.

Analytical Music Therapy uses music to access the subconscious and its memories. Vocal Psychotherapy works to access emotional content through singing. Free-improvisation turns music into a metaphor for the patient’s present life experiences. And Guided Imagery uses listening to music to access emotions.

“As you can see, music is a language and a tool and its applications are really limitless,” Long said. “Depending on the client, their needs and pathology, I use the voice, the piano, the guitar and simple percussion instruments. Every client is unique. Therefore, each client will be met where their psychological, physical, emotional and cognitive skills lie. It is age-specific in that it is client specific. Each client should be shown the maximum of respect, which is only how it should be in everyday life, too. So, it is not a question of age but individual needs.”

Music therapy happens through a process of activities and analysis. Initially assessing the patient, then sometimes in collaboration with the patient’s psychiatrist, social worker, doctor or family, the therapist formulates a specific treatment outline. Issues are discussed with other caregivers and the patient’s progress is assessed throughout the treatment.

“I started on this path originally to heal myself,” Long said. “That is a life-long journey…so I am traveling.”

Long has done several workshops at Brooklyn/Queens Conservatory for their Restorative Workshop Series. She will be doing one July 15 (bqcm.org/restorative_workshops.htm). She is also participating in a free concert Sunday, June 29 at 5 p.m., organized by Woodside Piano Studio on 58th Street. The June 29 show is at The Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church (85 South Oxford St., Fort Greene, Brooklyn. For more information, www.susanlong.it.

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