Health & Wellness

Rhythms of Comfort

Ariel Weissberger on the moving interplay between music and the aging experience.

Ariel, how did you get into music therapy?
I first heard of music therapy while attending Berkeley College of Music where I was studying music performance. I’ve always been interested in psychology, philosophy, and science—so when I saw there was a music therapy degree, I took the introductory class and was instantly hooked. I graduated with a double major in Music Performance and Music Therapy. I also have an MA in music psychotherapy from NYU.

What fascinates me most about music therapy is that I get to play music with people who are facing huge adversity. The music that comes from these collaborations, and the reactions that follow, are moving and meaningful. That’s what intrigues me—that interplay between music and the human experience.

What feedback do you get from families and senior facilities?
They are often awestruck by the dramatic changes that can occur; an Alzheimer’s sufferer temporarily returns to a state of lucidity, a personality will suddenly appear. The client will engage in banter, sing, or participate in interactive play. Sometimes it’s just the slight widening of the eyes that indicates we are connecting. It might be a change in an elderly person’s psychosocial state; he might appear calmer or more sociable. I also get feedback about the positive impact of music on relationships—among group members, family members or between staff and clients. People tell me how good the music makes them feel!

Are music therapy techniques any different for children?
It’s more that there are distinctive techniques for different therapeutic goals. We may use singing to strengthen speech or songwriting to teach about the time of year. We may use particular scales to explore different emotions and then slow down the tempo to promote relaxation at the end of a session.

How do you deal with your work from an emotional standpoint?

Being emotionally present helps me connect with the music and the client. It’s important to be able to separate my emotions from the client’s in order to keep our boundaries and to focus on our work.

Can you define your “humanistic creative approach”?
I define my approach as humanistic because I focus on who the clients are as individuals: their strengths, weaknesses, and how their experience affects them. It is creative because we use an artistic modality—music. Consequently, the client feels understood and is left with an enhanced state of wellbeing.

What makes your service unique?
It is unique in the sense that it is quite specialized and many people still don’t know about it. We have a lot of work to do to educate the population about the benefits of music therapy. This growing field is gaining more and more recognition through countless success stories and groundbreaking research.

How do you deal with your own self-care after a hospice or palliative therapy session?
The first few times I played for someone who was dying, I understood that I might have provided this client with his last music experience in this world. It was a great responsibility and I struggled with self-doubt and self-worth. But I have learned to be fully present in the moment, and that helps me during the session and after. I have learned that it’s not about me. I am there to facilitate an experience, an interaction. It’s recommended for psychotherapists of all modalities to be in therapy and/or clinical supervision, themselves, in order to process the feelings that may come up during these experiences.

Have you worked with seniors who were quite dynamic in their heyday?
Music helps bring out the client’s personality. Sadly, sometimes, that personality has been altered due to neurologic changes such as Alzheimer’s. I have had the pleasure of working with individuals over 90 years of age, who can play the most lively beat on the drums and are getting better at it even as their illness progresses.

How have you spread awareness of the benefit of music therapy?

I have been involved in research and pub≠lished a paper on the use of music technology with the elderly within a music therapy context. I am planning to publish more consistently in my 2018 blog, so, watch that space. I often teach workshops for music therapy students and professionals. I present in national and local conferences, and participate in the development of this field.

Do you interact with patient’s main caregivers?

We recommend that the patient’s family provide us with the contact information for the overseeing doctor, in case we need to make contact. We rarely contact the doctor but may touch base with the physical therapist, psychiatrist or psychologist if necessary.

How can music therapy reach people in a way that other therapies don’t?

What is unique about music is that it can reach people at every level of functionality. I have played meaningful music with people who are intubated, cannot recognize their family or even say their own name. I have had clients cry or laugh for the first time in years. We process music at an emotional, cognitive, and physical level. Music therapy enables us to make all sorts of therapeutic breakthroughs that reach people at their core.
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Ariel Weissberger is a Board Certified Music Therapist and Licensed Creative Arts Therapist with over 12 years of clinical experience. He established Berko Music Therapy in his grandparents’ honor and believes that music plays a vital role in the life-experience of the elderly population. Ariel has designed and developed music therapy programs for renowned hospitals and institutions in the area, and has worked with dementia, psychiatric, stroke, epilepsy, and palliative patients. Ariel is also a professional percussionist, and performs and records regularly with a variety of artists on the local New York music scene.
Contact: ariel@berkomusictherapy.com 347-774-1712, www.musictherapynyc.com.

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