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Music as Medicine for Veterans

music as medicine
Northport’s Creative Arts Therapist Tracey Enright and Marine Corps Veteran Peter Mohan in the Northport VA Music Therapy Clinic

Music helps us connect. Whether it’s expressing yourself by writing or playing a song, or simply sharing your love of a particular band, music creates strong social bonds. For Veterans, this can be a powerful form of therapy.

Music therapy is the process of using songs and instruments to help achieve therapeutic goals in a clinical setting.

Marine Corps Veteran Peter Mohan (above) learned to play guitar and is now a successful musician. Mohan found healing in his self-taught lessons. He continues to find peace and countless rewards from writing and performing his own songs.

Mohan has been with the Northport VA Medical Center’s Music Therapy program for over 10 years. He began participating in the 2011 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival and won a gold medal in the music division in the instrumental solo patriotic category. He has participated annually ever since.

Won multiple medals, most recently a Gold medal in 2020

“This program has helped me in countless ways,” Mohan said. “When I first heard of music therapy, I was intrigued by the openness and flexibility of the music and the sound. It’s a place where we don’t necessarily need to use words to express how we feel. I had an energy that hasn’t been present in years. I felt like I have things to look forward to and an outlet that is mine to feel when I need to. Also, there a bond that’s been missing since I left service to connect with Veterans that being in this program fills. You don’t get to do that just anywhere.”

Music is also beneficial for other conditions Veterans commonly face. Examples of those conditions are Parkinson’s Disease and head trauma. Music therapy is considered an alternative-management technique, in addition to psychotherapy, medication, and non-traditional therapies such as service animals.

Music therapy in use since 1945

Its applications date back to 1945, when the War Department Technical Bulletin detailed a program on “the use of music for reconditioning among service members convalescing in Army hospitals.”

Music therapy’s 70-year history in the U.S. military covers the entire continuum of care among service members, Veterans and their families. It is a vital part of treatment currently delivered in military treatment facilities and VA medical centers across the country, delivered by board-certified music therapists.

The American Music Therapy Association says the therapy has been a practice since the early 19th century. But it wasn’t until relatively recently that it became a prioritized form of treatment. In 2005, VA went full speed ahead on this approach, doubling the number of music therapists at its clinics across the country to better treat Veterans.

“Find the sound that brings you peace of mind.”

“We offer person-centered and individualized music therapy programs and services to support creativity, self-expression and self-empowerment,” said Northport’s creative arts therapist, Tracey Enright. “Additionally, we provide a variety of educational and experiential music related wellness services.”

The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival is presented each year. The festival is the culmination of talent competitions in art, music, dance, drama and creative writing. It is for Veterans treated in the VA health care system.

“If you’re looking for the best way to introduce music into your Veteran’s life, start with the basics,” said Enright. “Find the sounds that work best to bring you peace of mind. And incorporate music into more aspects of your day.”

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