Music remedy hitting all the proper notes in Guelph

‘I think it’s a healthy form of expression,’ said Mary Meads, director of Wellington Music Therapy

There is a crescendo of demand for music therapy in Guelph, said one music therapist.

Mary Meads is the director of Wellington Music Therapy, a clinic of music therapists who offer a variety of music therapy and music education programs. The clinic serves clients as young as three months and as old as 103.

“I found there was such a large need that the business kind of snowballed,” said Meads, who opened her practice in 2015 and had to move to a new location on 55 Delhi St.

“When I first moved here, there were only two of us who were music therapists in Guelph, and now that has grown to 15.”

Music therapy is the use of music and non-musical elements to help support non-musical goals. Meads notes there are different types of music therapy, including music psychotherapy, music centered therapy and guided imagery and music.

“It’s not about learning music, or making good music, or making beautiful music. It’s about the active engagement in music to work on non-musical goals,” said Meads. “In music therapy, what’s most important is the other things, right? The other things, the self esteem and the building of self esteem. That’s not the afterthought, that’s the active reason that you’re in music therapy.”

Meads adds residents don’t have to have a specific diagnosis, or any diagnosis, to access their services.

“We use each and every client’s own personal being in the world as a starting point, and together, we find ways in the therapeutic process to move toward empowerment, self-confidence and personal awareness, and then we can use music to address the variety of other needs that we’ve talked about,” said Meads, noting they also offer a few per bono sessions and help families apply for funding.

The outcomes of music therapy can be diverse depending on the persons needs, said Meads. Some goals music therapy can help achieve include improved communication and social skills, motor skills, cognitive function and emotional intelligence.

“You’re coming in, you’re making music, you’re writing songs, you’re jamming out and performing with your friends,” said Meads. “All these amazing things are happening with a therapist in a therapeutic space, and you’re moving towards change, but it doesn’t often feel like it.”

During the pandemic, Wellington Music Therapy saw more people come try music therapy to treat mental health and well-being. Meads explains music therapy can be an adjunct option to traditional forms of treatment as music triggers endorphins in the brain, helps people explore self-expression and build social connections.

“For example, you’re a seven-year-old girl whose experiencing bullying at school and you’re going to write your own song about what that feels like, and who you are, and you’re not going to talk to a therapist about it, like you’re writing a song like a super cool songwriter. It’s way cooler and way more motivating, right?”

In Canada, the Canadian Association for Music Therapy was incorporated May 6, 1977 and six programs teaching music therapy are offered across Canada. Within Ontario, music therapists are also eligible to be part of the College of Registered Psychotherapists. The music therapy movement was pioneered by three women in the 1950s named Fran Herman, Norma Sharpe and Thérèse Pageau.

“A lot of these pioneers worked really hard to increase the awareness of music therapy as a profession,” said Meads. “It is a profession similar to massage therapists. I think that’s very misunderstood. There is an overseeing body that supports us and makes sure we are working ethically and within our scope.”

Meads says the profession isn’t particularly diverse, being mainly female and white. She notes Indigenous, Middle Eastern and Chinese cultures were already using music intentionally for health and well-being.

“Our training as a music therapist is based on the Western understanding of what music therapy is, and also a Western understanding of music, and a Western understanding of wellness,” said Meads. “I think as a field it’s just so white-centric, and we do have a long to go in deepening our understanding of what that means for our profession.”

As a clinic, Meads said they have therapists who identify as BIPOC, queer and neurodivergent who make up their anti oppressive practice panel that oversees monthly meetings with other therapists in the clinic.

“They help us to understand our own relationship with anti-oppressive practice and try to find ways to dismantle it in our own practice so that we are practicing from a social justice lens and listening to our clients,” said Meads.

She adds the current requirements to become a music therapist is also impacting diversity in the profession. Currently, music therapists need to complete a 1,000 hour internship, which is often unpaid, as part of their requirements to become certified. With this requirement, Meads said a lot of people who are passionate about music therapy can’t enter the profession because they can’t afford it.

“I think there’s a lot that’s happening already, but I want to do what I can to lower barriers to access to become a music therapist,” she said.

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