Saturday Success Story: {If You’re Happy and You Know It}

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Today’s Saturday Success Story is about a very special client of mine (let’s be honest they are all very special to me). I see her once a week for in-home music therapy, and wanted to share her story because of the joy it brings me, and to give a more personal look at how music can be effective therapeutically.

I first received an email from her sister, inquiring about how music therapy could improve coping skills when dealing with change and anxiety. “Jan”, who has both physical and cognitive impairments, had recently moved to a new group home and was having trouble adapting to the environment because of anxiety.  The first time I met her for an assessment, her love of  playing instruments and singing was very obvious. At every single session that we have met, her first three requests, in order, are “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, “You are my Sunshine”, and “I’m Gonna Be” by the Proclaimers. Over a three month transition time, during which she lived at several facilities, Jan and I were able to use music that she loves to develop coping skills and reduce anxiety.  As I continued to meet her throughout her transition time,  she was able to improve coping strategies that we had developed in previous sessions that could be applied in the present situation and facility.

Despite her love of music, other factors made it hard for Jan to enjoy her preferred activities, like music therapy. There have been days when she puts on a karaoke performance that rivals many of the musicians I know, and days when she has been absolutely against meeting for music therapy.  One day in particular, I arrived and she was tossing stuffed animals and other small items around her room in a panic. She used many colorful words to ask me to leave. So I pulled out her favorite instrument, the ocean drum, and began quietly playing and singing “If You’re Happy and you Know It” with her nurses aide. Before we made it to verse three, Jan was playing the drum and sharing her own ideas of how to play with us. I used the drum as a motivator and from there I was able to start a conversation about how the noise of the ocean drum calmed her. I added some lotion to the top of the drum, and we sang and “drew” her favorite animals, including an attempt at sponge bob, and talked about positive things about living at the nursing home.

Now that she has moved back into her group home, she is able to use those coping skills in her every day life, including most recently, a new day program that she is attending. She shares the songs she learns and writes as well as the instruments she plays, with her staff and roommates.  In a recent session, she wrote a new verse for the song “You are my Sunshine”.

“I like to go out, out to eat.

My favorite restaurant is McDonalds.

When I go there, I get a cheeseburger,

And I drink a diet coke.”

It just so happens Jan and I have identical orders when we get fast food. People with disabilities are special in more than a cognitive and physical sense. They have individual personalities and traits that make them so rewarding to work with, and the feedback and joy that they give back is contagious.

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