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VA Illiana Music Therapists bring healing, joy to Veterans

someone playing a guitar
VA Illiana's music therapists help Veterans express themselves musically while improving their overall health.

On any given day at VA Illiana, a walk through a waiting area means overhearing tales of foreign ports, reunions, and friends who became family. Sharing comes easy to some Veterans, and the sounds of their memories gives clinics, hallways, and community living centers a palpable, patriotic energy.

Some experiences, though, are not swapped before appointments. They are often heavy, reflecting the sacrifice required to keep America free. For some Veterans, these stories call for a different form of expression—music. To help Veterans express themselves and achieve their goals, VA Illiana's team of music therapists use music as a way to bring healing, joy, and comfort.

The Cleveland Clinic defines music therapy as the clinical use of music to accomplish individualized goals such as reducing stress and improving mood and self-expression. While past experiences are a starting point for some Veterans, music therapy can be employed to help Veterans with a wide array of personal and clinical goals.

“Music therapy can be a beneficial option for so many Veterans,” said Angelika Hustedt, a Board-Certified Music Therapist at VA Illiana. “Some of the things we work on are increased coping skills, decreased depression and anxiety, emotional expression, relaxation, and appropriate social interaction. The list goes on beyond that, but the idea is that music therapy is not something for just one set of goals or a single type of Veteran.”

Rather than forming a separate, standalone element of a Veteran's health care plan, VA's approach to music therapy means Hustedt and her team are deeply integrated with a Veteran's clinical team.

“At VA, the goal is to improve the health of the whole person, and music therapy works alongside providers to make that a reality for those we serve,” said Hustedt. “Some of our approaches include music as assisted relaxation, vocal and instrumental instruction as a coping skill, songwriting and lyric analysis, as well as music and reminiscence. We also help Veterans use music as a tool for engagement within a safe and welcoming space.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that music therapy can mean people experience increased emotional expression while improving relationships and their overall quality of life. For many of those Hustedt works with, improving expression is a key part of their growth plan. She said the memories, experiences, and emotions that are often intertwined with music. This means that each session is a unique, beautiful experience for the Veteran with whom she is working.

“Music can release emotions in a way that nothing else can, and it is such a blessing to be able to share that with everyone we encounter,” said Hustedt. “As Veterans navigate a world in which Covid-19 has increased isolation, depression, and anxiety, we want everyone to know that music therapy is an option available to them at VA Illiana.”

For Veterans interested in music therapy services, the first step is to ask their provider for a consult. From there, the Veteran will be connected with Hustedt and her team, who offer both inpatient and outpatient music therapy services.

"We see the wonderful ways music can reach people and touch them on a daily basis,” said Hustedt. “If you’re on the fence, give music therapy a try. We are here to serve you and bring you the joy and healing so many other Veterans have found in music.”