Using Music on the Road to Recovery

Mar 30, 2017

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy as a health profession dates back to about 1950. Broadly defined, it’s the clinical use of music in a therapeutic relationship between a client and a credentialed professional to help address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs. The treatment generally involves listening to, creating, singing and/or moving to music. Substance abuse treatment programs are now making use of music and art therapy.  On this edition of “Sense of Community” we’ll talk about music therapy to help treat addiction.

Drury University is home to Springfield’s only on-campus music therapy program, the Drury University Center for Music Therapy and Wellness.  It began in 2002 and is housed in a former church building owned by Drury, now called “Congregational Hall.”

Drury University's Center for Music Therapy and Wellness is housed in "Congregational Hall", a former church building.
Credit (Photo: Randy Stewart)

Dr. Natalie Wlodarczyk, a Drury associate professor of music, is the Director of the Music Therapy program at Drury. She feels the program is “lucky” to have a building such as Congregational Hall to use as the program’s clinic.  “It’s not very common for a university music-therapy program to have its own clinic on campus.  We might be small, but for our size we sure offer a lot to the students.”

Morgan Robertson is a music therapist in the Drury program who not only teaches and mentors Drury students seeking degrees in Music Therapy, but also works with the Greene County Juvenile Justice System and the Greene County Youth Academy.  One of Robertson’s specialties is providing music therapy for youth ages 13 to 17. “And they come here on Tuesday afternoons, and then on Tuesday evenings I go to the Detention Center,” she says.

Now, because Robertson is not an officer of the court, an attorney or a physician, and to protect the privacy rights of the teenagers, she is prohibited from discussing with them what specifically brought them to the juvenile justice system—nor are they allowed to reveal it.  While these adolescents are dealing with a host of legal and social issues, Robertson feels drugs and alcohol undoubtedly play a big part in why at least some of them landed in the juvenile justice system.  “Say we’re doing a lyric analysis (of a pop song), and the lyrics pertain specifically to drug and alcohol use—and/or drug and alcohol recovery.  Then it’s okay for people to offer up their personal experiences.  If teaching somebody a guitar lick, or to do a cover of a song or a rap—if that can inspire them on their journey, then I’m willing to present it to them. And I think that music therapy is a perfect component of the recovery process.”

While music therapist Morgan Robertson works with youth in the juvenile justice system, Drury Music Therapy Program Director Dr. Natalie Wlodarczyk—herself a counselor and music therapist—works with individuals who are very definitely recovering from alcohol or drug addiction.  Dr. Wlodarczyk is part of the counseling staff at the privately-run, privately-funded Synergy Recovery Center just outside Springfield in Rogersville. 

Synergy’s Executive Director and co-founder is Paige Tuck.  She calls Synergy “a dual-diagnosis treatment facility.  So we can do mental health and substance abuse—which, a lot of times, go hand in hand.  There’s a need in our area. I think that people are having more awareness—I think some of the shame that’s associated with addiction has been, hopefully, lessened, and that people are reaching out and getting help”—specifically women age 18 and older.  Synergy Recovery Center houses up to eight women for 30 to 90 days each, offering some 50 hours a week of structured, holistic treatment to their clients, including individual and group therapy, fitness classes, and music therapy.  And that’s Dr. Natalie Wlodarczyk’s specialty.

According to Dr. Wlodarczyk, “the reason that many of these women have turned to drugs or alcohol is an escape, or a negative coping skill for something else that they’re dealing with.  Some traumatic background—they were abused, self-esteem issues, issues with eating disorders, body image.  We spend a lot of time in my group using music as an opportunity and tool for self-expression and reflection.” 

Like Morgan Robertson, much of Dr. Wlodarczyk’s work with her clients is in the form of “lyric analysis.” “And so, what I’ll do is bring my guitar, and I will sing and play the song live—and the women love to sing with me.  So they all sing, I bring instruments and so on. We sing—and we have a good time singing the song—but then afterwards we really get into the lyrics.  And we talk about certain lyrics that they can relate to, or that they think are a clear depiction of what they’ve gone through... or sometimes what they say is, ‘You know what?  Line 19?  That doesn’t (apply)—I don’t get that at all.’  We do a lot of improvisation, so we’ll just make music.  And then the way that they are kind of listening to each other and reacting to each other (shows that) ‘you’re not alone in the experience.’  And that’s one thing that group therapy does—it gives them that group cohesion, that sense of ‘I’m not alone—I’m not the only person that’s going through this.’”

The women currently staying at Synergy Recovery Center allowed me to sit in with them briefly last week during their session with Dr. Wlodarczyk, as she led them through Lee Ann Womack’s song “I Hope You Dance” (bits of which are included in the audio file accompanying this story).

Find out more about the Drury University Center for Music Therapy and Wellness at http://drury.edu/music. And Synergy Recovery Center’s website is www.synergyrecoverycenter.com.