At the Frost School of Music, students are using their tuneful talents to assist others in the community.
The University of Miami is now one of a few schools in the U.S. where students can major in music therapy. The small but growing program allows its 40-plus students to combine two of their passions.
“I love the fact that it’s a helping profession within the field of music,” said freshman Meagan Kling, who is majoring in music therapy.
Despite its rising popularity, music therapy did not take off as a profession in the United States until the 1940s.
The health care profession uses music as a tool to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social problems, according to the American Music Therapy Association. Board-certified therapists use their talents to sing and play instruments that create sounds to help their patients in a number of ways, including self-expression, social interaction, reality awareness, improved motor functioning and stress reduction.
Program director Shannon de l’Etoile draws on her experience as a therapist to teach her students.
“My teaching is motivated by both students and clients,” she said. “I recall all of the clients with whom I have worked with as a therapist, such as a child with autism, a man with schizophrenia or a young woman who unexpectedly experienced a stroke.”
According to de l’Etoile, the program has gained greater recognition in recent years. This is mostly because of brain imaging studies that allow therapists to pinpoint exactly how they are helping their patients.
Music therapy majors take a variety of courses that develop their knowledge of music, human behavior and different approaches to therapy.
After finishing four years of coursework, they intern for six months in the U.S. After that, they must pass a certification board exam to receive the credentials that allow them to practice at hospitals, schools and nursing homes.
Freshman Emily Minkow, who is majoring in music therapy, is looking forward to doing on-site clinical work.
“I am looking forward to starting my practicum next year and watching the music therapist’s interventions,” she said. “The classes we are required to take are fascinating, and I have already learned more than I could have imagined.”
UM students receive twice the amount of clinical training that is required by national standards. The majority of the training takes place at the Miller School of Medicine.
Each therapy session differs based on the scenario. The client has specific goals, objectives and a general therapeutic plan that the therapist designs. It is the therapist’s job to lay out all of the following, test them and change or adjust them accordingly.
For senior Lyla Yaner, the experience is one of the main reasons she loves the program.
“It’s everything I could ever want. It’s musical and creative, and you get to help people,” she said. “Every day is different and exciting.”
UM alumna and music therapist Amy Kalas started as a music education major and switched to music therapy when she realized teaching wasn’t for her.
“The program is fantastic,” she said. “It prepares you well with the six practicums in different areas around Miami, serving different populations.”
She currently works for United Cerebral Palsy, which helps kids with special needs.
“My passion is music and helping people,” Kalas said. “It was my dream job.”