• April 20, 2014

VA hospital’s music therapy helps patients reach goals

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Posted: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 12:00 pm

By Colleen Flaherty

Fort Hood Herald

TEMPLE - It's an 8:30 a.m. music therapy session at Olin E. Teague Veterans' Medical Center, but it feels and sounds more like an evening concert.

Licensed creative art therapist Bridgett Holmes is leading several veterans in song after song from behind her keyboard and microphone, including those by the Beatles. Light filters in through the studio windows, bathing the bassist, drummer and guitarist in yellow light. The mood is calm.

Unlike more traditional therapists, Holmes' approach is a mix of direct and indirect counseling to help patients reach their therapeutic goals through music.

"It's amazing what can be accomplished without words," said Holmes. "My favorite example is when someone is playing the saxophone. If they're playing with high anxiety and high stress, they're going to get a bad sound. When they finally relax, they're going to get a better quality of sound. It's a perfect metaphor for life."

What isn't working in a patient's music also may be what isn't working in their relationships, she added.

Holmes said 25 percent of her patients are veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are her largest patient block.

She sees 30 to 50 patients a week, referred to her by their primary mental health care providers. They typically receive music therapy in addition to more traditional behavioral health services.

The nonthreatening nature of music can help some veterans respond to therapy more quickly, she said. "(This) is considered clinical, but they don't view it that way."

Aspiring drummer Larry Williams, a 64-year-old Marine Corps veteran who is staying at the VA domiciliary while undergoing treatment for substance abuse, said music therapy is the highlight of his day.

"I was looking for something, and it was music," he said. "When I was still a kid, I fooled around with drumming, and if I'd stuck with it, I'd probably be better off today."

Picking up a rudiment sheet, he said, "I spend hours here... Rudiments are to drumming what the alphabet is to English. They can be hard and difficult to pick up, but you can play anything in the world."

Unlike Williams, Army veteran William Mayo began attending music therapy with a strong background in music. He plays the bass and other instruments, and often helps other patients improve their playing.

"I've done self-help groups for depression and stuff like that," said Mayo, who served from 1973 to 1974 and is staying at the domiciliary. He also publicly performs with Holmes' outpatient therapy band. "Music helps a lot. It kind of eases your mind and your soul. It kind of helps build confidence and self-esteem."

Williams hopes to land a job through one of the VA's employment readiness programs when he leaves the domiciliary in August, and he's thankful for the help.

"This place is a Godsend," he said. "I don't know where I'd be if I wasn't here."

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