Anyone who has ever bounced along to the Beach Boys or wept during “Adagio for Strings” already understands the power of music to move us. In fact, music’s unique capacity to bring back memories, stimulate emotions, facilitate physical movement, or just reduce stress and encourage relaxation forms the core of the concept of music therapy.
That’s why the modality has long been a valued part of life at Judson. Now, thanks to an innovative new partnership with the Music Therapy Department at Cleveland State University, even a pandemic can’t stand in its way.
According to Jessica Kulczycki, Judson’s community life and care director, the groundwork for the new relationship was laid almost two years ago, when Jim Carnovale, Judson’s vice-president of finance and CFO, put her in touch with Lori Lundeen-Smith, from the Music Therapy Department at CSU, where she serves as assistant professor of practice and clinical manager. “Jim said he thought we would have a lot to talk about,” Jessica recalls, “and he was so right! Judson was eager to find music therapists, and the Music Therapy Department was eager to find practicum placements for their students. We were thrilled to be able to create a partnership that would benefit both our residents and the CSU community!”
Then – just as the ink was drying on the contract – the pandemic hit. “We had made plans to begin the program this fall,” recalls Lori. “But in light of COVID-19 and its restrictions, we had so many questions about how we could move forward – and the students were feeling a little despairing. Jessica, however, was just amazing. She told me that Judson had already started bringing programs in remotely, using resources like Zoom, large-screen TVs, and even headsets. It was so heartening to hear that they had these things all figured out. It was really exciting!”
The music therapy partnership launched in September, powered by Zoom for Healthcare, a special version of Zoom designed to strictly protect client privacy. Jessica and her team selected a group of four or five residents from each Judson campus to participate in the program. Each group gathers once per week in front of a large-screen TV – in a socially distanced manner, of course – and works virtually with their student-therapist for one hour. Thanks to the technology, the residents and their student-therapist can see and hear each other clearly as they engage in activities such as singing, songwriting, clapping, or playing musical instruments provided by Judson.
“The cool thing is that, during the referral process, the families are able to let us know what type of music the resident enjoys, and the program can be tailored to their interests,” explains Jessica. “We’ll also be doing screenshots during the sessions that we can share with the family, keeping them informed and involved.”
As for the student-therapists, the senior-level students are closely supervised throughout the 10-week program by board-certified music therapists from the Music Department. Jessica and her Judson team also provide ongoing input, suggestions, and direction. “Our concern is always for our clients,” says Lori. “We want to make sure that those the students are working with receive the best music therapy possible.”
At the same time, the students benefit from the experience of working with an older population. And by providing services remotely, via technology, they gain an invaluable addition to their skill sets. “It’s a new world out there,” Lori says, “and this is great preparation for entering it.”
According to the American Music Therapy Association, while music therapy is appropriate for all ages, it has particular benefits for older persons who may have functional deficits in physical, psychological, cognitive, or social functioning.
“It’s a very interactive experience,” says Jessica. “In addition to therapeutic objectives like making eye contact, following directions, or counting along to the beat, it’s a wonderful opportunity for our residents to just play – to be together, to connect with the student and their neighbors and just have a good time, in the face of COVID restrictions.
“Isolation can have serious ramifications,” Jessica adds. “And this is a wonderful chance to bring people together and let them play and connect.”
Both Jessica and Lori are optimistic that the partnership will extend beyond the current semester. “Everything has gone so well,” says Lori. “It’s been a big success story for our students, and we are just thrilled.”
Jessica agrees. “It’s exciting stuff, and a wonderful fit with our mission: Even in the face of COVID, Judson brings community to life!”