Music therapy helping veterans overcome depression

- A chime choir at Bay Pines Veterans Hospital relies on advanced skills of matching numbers, colors and timing. The musicians' precision, focus and coordination makes the musical group's magnificent sound a form of therapy for patients. 

"It really just helps! That's really the only word. I know it's a simple word, but it really helps and it's needed," group member Luther Harrison said.

He joined the chime choir six years ago, but he says he has battled depression for decades.

"With depression, often times comes isolation, low energy, low mood. So having a focus and a commitment to being involved actually increased my motivation to want to be a part of something creative," he explained.

Music Therapist Erin Todd orchestrates the group of four. She said because music is a part of everyone's life, it's a natural way to help patients heal. 

"It's not so much about teaching them how to play an instrument," Todd said. "That's kind of the secondary goal for them. A lot of time its looking at what is their other rehab goal and what are they trying to accomplish and then how can we do that with music?"

Skills used playing complex chords can also be applied to overcoming problems in patients' everyday lives.

"I just realized, I don't have to do it perfectly. I can make mistakes and I'll still be supported by those around me. I can multitask and I can focus and I can let my problems sit at the door for just a little bit, so that when I am done, I am better prepared to handle those problems again," Todd said through a smile.

While the psychological aspects are critical, playing a musical instrument also increases blood flow in the brain.

Studies using functional MRI have shown that playing an instrument lights up more areas of the brain than any other activity - increasing blood flow to areas involved in thinking, moving, and pleasure.

Meanwhile, Harrison said the sessions are re-igniting his passion as a musician. 

"It put me back in touch with some musical abilities that I had previously discarded," he explained, adding he once played the cello. 

He now wants to learn the piano. 

Creating harmony in their songs is translating into harmony in his relationships, too.

"It gave me something to look forward to and also to interact with other veterans at a really enjoyable level," Harrison said.

Those will be beneficial bonds formed through a melody of minds. 

For more information, contact the C.W. Bill Young VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Bay Pines, Fla.

Music Therapy - 727-398-6661 extension 15884

American Music Therapy Association: http://www.musictherapy.org/

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