Music moves through our lives always. Accompanied by lullabies, hymns, anthems and dirges, we dance from birth to death, marching to the beat of our own drummer, heads aswirl with melodies. Music calms, inspires and incites. And it can also heal.
This fall, the first group of Carroll students began studying music therapy, learning ways to incorporate music in treating a host of health and wellness issues. The new music therapy degree program is in its infancy and still wending its way towards approval, but has found a receptive student body at Carroll.
“I tell our students they are pioneers in the truest sense of the word,” said Elizabeth Rousseau, clinical assistant professor and director of the music therapy program. At present, 15 students are participating in the program, “but based on the interest we’re seeing, we could easily see 20 or more next fall.”
The program bridges two disciplines at Carroll—the arts and the health sciences. Rousseau guesses she’s the only clinical teacher in the humanities at Carroll.
“This (program) is a natural fit for Carroll,” according to Dr. Charles Byler, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It builds on two academic areas in which we are particularly strong, music and therapeutic health care. The program offers students who are interested in studying music an excellent career option.”
The program is an example of Carroll’s success in developing academic programs that blend liberal arts and sciences with vocationally oriented courses, according to Byler. “Students in the program will develop both their creative and analytical skills to a very high level.”
Students in the program study music, taking lessons in music therapy and gaining proficiency in playing an instrument. But they also acquire skills to be a therapist, learning clinical skills with patients and preparing for a professional practice.
“It’s a clinical degree, even though on the outside it just looks like we’re having fun,” said Rousseau.
The music therapy program—Carroll is the only co-ed university in the state offering the major—is what attracted second-year student Stephanie Ledonne to Carroll. She had attended some classes at Carroll while a senior at Sussex Hamilton High School but first enrolled at another university, pursuing voice studies. The music therapy program, however, caught her attention.
“I want to sing, of course,” Stephanie said. “But I like the idea I can use my talents to actually help someone else gain skills they didn’t have before or solve problems.”
This academic year, she has gone to a memory care facility to sing, play instruments and even employ scarves to gently engage with and coerce movement among the clientele.
Students in the program begin clinical placements in their second year, first observing a certified music therapist at work and, over the course of that year, beginning to assist. Rousseau’s students this year also accompany her to the Authentic Birth Center in Wauwatosa to help in a class designed to promote healthy attachment and postpartum emotional support for new mothers. Following that, they’ll experience four or five clinical placements totaling up to 200 hours, where they’ll develop their skills, learning to assess, document, treat and evaluate patients. The program has been developed to target standards and competencies outlined by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). Graduates of the program will be eligible to sit for the national board certification exam offered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists.
The outlook for those graduates is good, with an anticipated eight to 14 percent job growth in the next decade. Music therapists work with all ages— from pre-school children to the elderly. Therapists may work in psychiatric hospitals, rehabilitative facilities, senior centers, nursing homes, hospitals and outpatient clinics, among other sites—all places where a familiar melody or sweet song may help soothe, motivate and even heal.