Healing through music

If you’ve ever walked through the John Aird  building on your way to class, the dining hall or even to escape the rain, you have undoubtedly passed through the music building. However, what you may not know is that the faculty of music at Laurier is one of the fastest growing programs our school offers. Within it is the music therapy program. This two-year honours degree, taken in the last two years of a four-year honours music program, is the first of its kind in Canada and has grown in both popularity and demand in the past few years. In essence, this program aims to use music as a therapeutic intervention for people who have special needs or require special and intricate treatment.

“It deals with the clinical application of how music is used to improve lives,” claimed Glen Carruthers, dean of the faculty of music. He added that, “There is no civilization of which we are aware of in the history of the world in which music has not played a crucial role.”

We all see the effects of music therapy every day.  For example, when we’re stuck in traffic or when we’re feeling lonely walking to class, we usually turn to music as a form of entertainment and distraction from boredom. Even with upbeat music, people have a burst of energy which makes them nod their heads to the rhythm. Another example is listening to classical music, which usually helps bring a sense of calm. This can in turn help some people concentrate better.

The music therapy program here at Laurier facilitates the many different dimensions of the music therapy profession. On top of the requirement of being highly skilled musicians, students in this program must also study and complete courses in psychology and behaviour.

“There’s a heavy psychological basis involved, there’s a lot about oral perception and it basically brings together all that we know about helping people through music,” states Carruthers.

The intent of the music therapy program at Laurier is to produce music therapists who are diverse experts and who understand the musical and therapeutic process.

“Students are generally attracted to the program initially for their passion for music and usually go on to our masters program,” said Carruthers.

The masters program for music therapy is targeted to really help students grasp the main clinical theories and philosophies of the practice itself and, of course, the current music therapy trends. But what does the music therapy landscape look like after university? Carruthers suggested that, “There are lots of employment opportunities for music therapy graduates as the population gets more diverse.”

Hospitals, schools, community centres and even prisons all employ a healthy amount of music therapists to expand and improve their therapeutic reach. However, Carruthers stated that, “Some graduates are more inclined to be more entrepreneurial and get into private practices.” This, in turn, creates young professionals succeeding in a field that they are devoutly passionate about.

Fifth-year music performance and composition student Emily Walker, who has been surrounded by the faculty of music for her entire university career, speaks to the community impact of the program.

“It’s great to see such community involvement. The music therapy program is a rather new branch of helping those in need by expressing and empowering themselves through music,” enthused Walker.

On top of the diverse and hands-on course structure, the program also offers students the opportunity to work and learn in supervised placements so that they can develop their skills while helping the community. After graduation, each student of the music therapy program is required to complete a 1,000 hour internship.

Even though the music therapy program at Laurier is fairly new and smaller than other programs in the faculty, it’s innovative approach to learning and student career development proves it to have strong potential as a well recognized program here at Wilfrid Laurier.

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