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Music as Alternative Technique to Healing

Music Therapist plays music for Veteran.
Music Therapist plays music for Veteran.

We all love music in some form or fashion. Whether writing, singing or playing a tune with friends and family.

It’s a way for people to share a commonality and it helps Veterans heal through therapy with a “School of Rock” approach.

Alicia Chopyk, Music and Neurologic Music Therapist at Wilmington VA Medical Center talks about music, uses songs and instruments to help Veterans in the Community Living Center as an alternative medicine technique to heal.

“Music therapy, It's kind of like, we're all on a journey a bit,” Chopyk said. “What we look for in music therapy is how do we use music or experience it, whether it be creating, listening or engaging in music, by recreating that to help our health and mental health in the process.”

Music therapy is beneficial to help Veterans suffering from memory impairments, speech disorders, head traumas and other areas. Getting Veterans to buy in to alternative techniques and letting them know it is a collaboration is only the beginning.

“I think of music as a collaboration”

“When we look at music therapy, we're using this as a way to help you achieve your goals and go out and use these techniques wherever you go,” said Chopyk. “Buy in is everything. I think of music as a collaboration, meaning that we are in this together. At this point, we are equals because I'm not going to force you to do something. You don't want to do this; we can do something else. That's like the beauty of music therapy. You must want to do it.”

One of those buy in techniques Chopyk uses for Veterans with neuropathy is to use thimbles on their fingertips to decrease pain.  She adds that using a steel slide guitar takes the pressure off one’s wrist and allows them to strum like the Allman Brothers. This all follows a realistic approach to music therapy as she assesses each Veteran to find a way to help them achieve their end goal.

“I never want to disappoint or make someone believe. I always want to be realistic, but I also want to help them redefine what it is to create music,” Chopyk said. “Just because you can't play the guitar the way you want to, doesn't mean you don't have a fire to play, or you don't need that kind of musical release.”

Some might think using music to heal might not work or it isn’t available where they live, but all they need to do is reach out and try. “I say this for everybody, just be open minded. To me, Veterans have been the most open minded to music therapy,” Chopyk said.

Not all Music Therapy is the Same

Chopyk is well versed in the guitar, piano, singing, classical flute and piccolo, but she also uses her experiences with Veterans to learn other instruments they are interested in as well.

“I had a patient who loved the violin and that's a hard instrument,” Chopyk said.  “I had to totally teach myself how to do it. But I kind of took the approach of being honest, being upfront, saying, look, you want to play violin, I'm game. However, I want you to know this is not my strong suit. Now we're back to the collaborating piece, because I also want everyone I work with to take accountability for what they bring.”

Not all music therapy is about playing an instrument or singing, sometimes it’s just about being comfortable talking about music with someone else. Chopyk says often Veterans will engage more once they find something in common with someone through music.

“Sometimes Veterans just want to talk,” Chopyk said. “One Veteran and I were talking one day about Johnny Cash’s life, music and prison and we were like, that guy, man, what a redemption story, to be able to look back at your own sobriety, and ask yourself can I create a redemption story through all my struggles that I've been through?”

Putting music to hard topics that need to be talked about helps support oneself emotionally. It can open their mind to explore as well as help talk about experiences that are drowning them.  Music in general helps to decompress the stressors that so many are looking for in that moment.

“I think of music therapy as an improv,” Chopyk said. “You're just improvising. You never know what's going to happen. I always kind of come in with a plan, knowing the plan could be thrown out the window. And that's just not going to happen today, and that's fine. We can adjust everything based off what's happening in the moment, and I think that's one of the coolest things to teach people, is just how to be flexible in the moment.”

“The learning is a really cool process, but, you know, it's still about the therapy,” said Chopyk

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