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When OTs Wore White Shoes

The Gift of Song

Published June 16, 2015 10:00 AM by Debra Karplus
When I started college in the early 1970s, I developed a passion for classical music. Lucky for those of us at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, we have the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, a relatively new concert hall when I was a college freshman, and other venues for enjoying live classical and other excellent quality music. In the past couple decades I have been able to get to Krannert Center frequently for concerts, theater and other forms of entertainment.

The practice of occupational therapy wonderfully co-exists with several other disciples. Physical therapy and speech and language therapy are the obvious "partners" of occupational therapy, but depending on what setting you work in, you may find yourself working side by side with a music therapy professional. I had heard of music therapy back in the 1970s, and had been a person who was more accommodating to change; I could have embarked on a career in music therapy, a decision that would have required me to transfer to a different university. But, looking back on my four decades as an occupational therapy practitioner, I am very thankful that I stayed the course, getting my degree and working in a wide variety of settings that required the services of an OT.

Often, as I sit at a concert, I close my eyes and let my mind wander. Even when I listen to music at home, I think about how OTs can use it in their practice without stepping on the professional toes of trained and licensed music therapists.

I have sung in a community chorus for many years. Though there has been a core group of long-time choral members, others have come and gone for a number of reasons. Over the years, choir members have included a woman who was blind, and had one of the most beautiful voices I have ever heard - we had all of her music printed in Braille. There have also been several members with mental retardation, and a few with physical disabilities. 

Singing is a unifying activity, as is most any kind of performing, such as playing a musical instrument in an ensemble or dancing. And though OTs are clearly not music therapists, there is absolutely no reason why we cannot add music into our clinical practices. Besides the sheer pleasure and satisfaction of creating music with a group, such as our chorus, there are clearly some benefits to utilizing music as one of many OT modalities. 

Singing requires a certain amount of good standing or sitting posture and breath control, as well as arm extension if you are holding music, and the ability to cross the mid-line if you are turning the pages. Playing most any musical instrument requires some level of gross and fine motor coordination. Listening to music, whether live or recorded, elicits feelings that can be calming dependent on the music selected.

I am wondering how you, my blog readers, have used music in your clinical settings.

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