Perfect Sound Forever

Professor Barbara Hesser

Just how respected and supported is the academic field of music therapy? New York's Nordoff-Robbins Center recently auctioned donated items from Aerosmith (a tour with the band in Japan), Bruce Springsteen (an autographed guitar), Madonna (a hat) and Bob Dylan (a lyric book). The center is operated as a part of New York University's Music Therapy program (which has a masters and a doctoral degree program), directed by Professor Barbara Hesser since 1974. Professor Hesser has been a practitioner in the field for a quarter century now while also working as a music therapist in private practice.

PSF: Initially, what made you want to pursue work in this field?

When I first heard about music therapy in the early 1970's I was very excited. I did not know that there was a field that combined my two interests - music and psychology (which for me was an interest based on my desire to work with people who had emotional, mental and physical problems).

PSF: What are some cases that stand out as being special in that you saw an extraordinary reversal in a patient's condition because of your work?

Every music therapy session is remarkable no matter what kind of problem (mental, physical or emotional) I am working with. Music reaches people in ways that no other medium can - and has a deep effect on most human beings. I would not want people to think that we only work for the "miracles" the extrodinary occasions where someone is dramatically changed (though this does happen!), for music brings something to everyone. For me it is astounding to see a handicapped child express themself in a way that was never possible before, to work with an adult who found music a way to explore difficult feelings and/or relationships, and an older person who can sing a song from their life that was special for them when they can remeber little else due to the devastating effects of Aktheimers Disease.

I have been with clients who have spoken their first word in a music therapy session, and worked with adults that have gotten insight from working with improvised music that they never had before that had profound effects on their life - but it is the everyday work that is so rewarding.

PSF: Do you think the AMA and other medical organizations have given music therapy its proper respect and recognition as of now?

Certainly the AMA has been introduced to Music Therapy and the importance of the work. There is actually an International Association for Music And Medicine. I think that recognition and respect come from individuals - and there have been many medical people that have supported music therapy. We can always benefit from more medical and psychological people supporting us and we need to continue to educate other related professionals about the importance and possibilities of music therapy.

PSF: Do you see music therapy as part of a holistic approach to a patient's health?

Yes, music has the potential to reach the mind, body and spirit of people.

PSF: How do you make determinations about the music to be used with a patient?

Each approach to music therapy handles this differently and specifically and you would have to get much more in depth than this e-mail to understand that - but generally we use music that the client knows and responds to when we first meet them and then perhaps we can introduce music that we feel will be helpful that they are unfamiliar with. Music therapists use both live music making and recorded music and need to be very talented and flexible musicians to do this.well.

PSF: Do you find that certain types of ailments/conditions make a patient more or less responsive to music therapy? What are some of these in particular?

In twenty five years in the field I haven't worked with anyone that didn't respond to music therapy in some way - so I think that all ailments and conditions can be helped equally - the therapist needs to be adaptive and meet each condition and person as they are. We work with people not conditions.

PSF: What kind of important advances have you seen in this field since you began working in it?

Music therapy has developed dramatically over the last 25 years. We are now working succesfully in the areas of special education, psychotherapy and medicine. There are many new approaches to music therapy - we understand the work better and our research is much more sophisticated. Music Therapy is definitely growing. The public is much more aware of music therapy as an important treatment modality and many people are beginning to seek music therapy as an alternative treatment for their mental, physical and emotional problems - also there is a larger group of clients who do not have serious problems who are seeking music therapy for the improvement of their lives.

See the other Music Therapy articles