Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Music for the Mind and Body: Interview with Beth Wiskus

Interview with Beth Wiskus, MA, MT-BC, NMT Board Certified Music Therapist, Special Music, Inc.

The Downstream/Upstream project is fortunate to have the assistance of Beth Wiskus, who has helped plan the music portion of the project, and recently led a rehearsal of songs with the kids and recorded a practice CD for them to take home. She teaches a music class at Children's Discovery Academy, but there’s more to her work than traditional music education, and I asked her to tell me about her role as a music therapist through her program, Special Music, Inc.

JKB: What drew you to this work as a music therapist?
BW: I’m interested in the therapeutic role of music, -- music as a therapeutic medium.

JKB: How did you decide to become a music therapist?
BW: I was getting an undergrad degree in Music Education, but had also considered psychology. I heard about a music therapy program and thought this would be the right combination of music and psychology. So I finished my music education degree, then got a masters at the University of Minnesota in music therapy. I was in St.Paul schools as a music therapist for a number of years. I also got certification as a Neurologic music therapist from Colorado State.

JKB: Can you tell me more about how music can be therapeutic?
BW: The work is evidence-based. There is research on how rhythm affects the brain. For example, when a person is engaged in music the whole brain is engaged. If there is a deficit like Parkinson’s, or stroke, rhythm can help improve muscle coordination. More neurons are firing simultaneously while engaged in music than in other activities. I work with kids with autism to regulate sensory information. Rhythm, through both music and movement, helps both the motor and sensory systems. My work uses music to work on non-music goals.

JKB: Does music have benefits for the non-impaired?
BW: Yes, research shows that for musicians, without impairments, that it also enhances and strengthens the muscle between the two hemispheres of the brain. In addition to the aesthetic and emotional benefits of music that are commonly known, there are other benefits too, like improved learning in math, for example.

JKB: What excites you about the field?
BW: There is exciting progression in the field. As more research is done on music and the brain, perhaps it will become recognized by health insurance companies as an important treatment that should be covered for certain conditions. More research on music and learning outcomes could also help make the case for the importance of music in regular education.

JKB: What do you find kids are most interested in when you work with them?
BW: That’s hard to say because each child is different. Kids are often most interested in what instrument they get to play, but some are most interested in singing or in movements with music.

JKB: Thanks Beth. We’ll see you next week at the concert!

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