Music therapist Kate Beever met with a client once who refused to take his medications. The man, in his late 60s, was hospitalized with prostate cancer and reluctant to interact with the medical providers trying to help him.
Beever, a percussionist and keyboardist, played him a couple of songs. The man began to open up, particularly when Beever played the familiar notes of the Barbra Streisand classic “Evergreen.”
“I had played his wedding song, and then he sang it to his wife,” Beever said.
The patient started talking with his health care providers. Eventually, he resumed taking his medications and following his treatment plan. His interactions with Beever improved his mood and changed his behavior, one of the many benefits of music therapy, along with alleviating pain and stress, promoting movement and coordination and improving communication, according to the American Music Therapy Association.
“You really don’t have to know anything about music to benefit from music therapy,” said Beever, who also plays Portland-area gigs with the Zach Jones Band.
Beever’s on a mission to boost awareness of the healing effects of the creative arts — from music to dance to painting — not only among patients, but also fellow health care professionals. A board-certified music therapist, she organized an upcoming daylong conference focused on creative arts therapies. The May 31 conference will be presented in Gorham by Beever’s alma mater, the University of Southern Maine School of Music.
Participants will learn about art, dance and music therapy. The day’s events include sessions on working with traumatized children and singing and breathing for stress relief.
Misconceptions about arts therapies abound, but the techniques have gained wider acceptance in recent years, Beever said. Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has helped to raise the profile of music therapy, which she credits with helping her learn how to speak again after a gunshot wound to the brain nearly killed her. A recent study published by the American Cancer Society found a form of music therapy that involves writing song lyrics and recording videos can help young cancer patients to better cope with their illness.
Health insurers are increasingly willing to pay for creative arts therapies, with a referral from a physician, Beever said.
Beever counts cancer patients among her clients, along with adults and children facing breathing problems, movement difficulties and developmental disabilities.
Creative arts therapies fall under the umbrella of integrative medicine, along with massage, acupuncture and yoga, she explained. Qualified therapists, who are certified after completing coursework at accredited schools, assess patients and help them set goals. Rather than striving to create a masterpiece painting or musical composition, patients set goals for their health, whether cognitive, physical, social or emotional, Beever said. A patient with a spinal cord injury, for example, might aim to walk 10 steps, and reach that target by learning how to walk in time to music, she said.
Creative therapy often accompanies other approaches, such as occupational or speech therapies, Beever said.
She hopes the conference will help to build a community in Maine among creative therapists of all stripes, she said.
“I think together we could do a lot more,” Beever said.
“Creative Health: Conference for Healthcare Professionals and Caregivers” will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 31, at Corthell Concert Hall, University of Southern Maine, Gorham campus. Registration costs $35 for professionals, caregivers and the general public, $25 for students. For information, visit usm.maine.edu/music/creative-health-conference-heathcare-professionals-and-caregivers.