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The power of music therapy

Music therapy at Presbyterian Homes & ServicesThe COVID pandemic may be remembered by many as a year of isolation and anxiety. But for others, music and song delivered moments of comfort and meaning — thanks to our Optage Hospice team, including music therapists Casey Haukos and Valerie Wilk.

 “The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”
                              —Zephaniah 3:17

“I believe music is therapy,” says Casey, with his guitar in tote. “I believe in the power of song. Music can change a person’s heart; it can change how they feel. I think it can help people out of sadness and take them back to a place where they were happier.
“My job is to make people cry,” he jokes.
Whether it’s happy or a sad tears, our music therapists provide an essential service to our residents and families at the end of life.

What does music therapy look like? Watch Casey and Valerie to find out!

Optage Hospice Chaplain Steve Richards reflects on the unique role of music therapists in ministry. “We often think about the hands and feet of Jesus being those who serve and provide the medications and the meals,” he says, “but Jesus also had a voice and sung. So, you get to be the voice of Jesus as well.”
“There’s this beautiful tie in to the spiritual care that we provide,” says Sarah Olsen, Director of Social Work and Chaplain Services. “Songs contain so much truth and the words that Jesus said. So many of those we serve love hymns.”

To the tune of group laughter, Valerie chimes in, “I always say my greatest hits are: How Great Thou Art, In the Garden, On Eagle’s Wings and It Is Well with My Soul.”
Other hospice team members have witnessed the power of song to soothe and transform. "I really depend on our music therapists,” says Nursing Assistant Logan Boward. “I’ve learned that for a lot of our clients, music therapy really relaxes them before the nursing visit or the home health aide visit. So, I will call Valerie right before I begin the cares."
Consequently, last year when Valerie and Casey could no longer visit in person, the entire Optage Hospice team knew they had to step in — CNAs, nurses, chaplains and social workers. While visiting clients, they presented Valerie and Casey using FaceTime on their phones, streaming music therapy sessions.

"Our team members provided the physical presence that we couldn't," Valerie notes. "I like to use the phrases 'hold the space' or 'create that musical bubble' to describe that importance of being physically and emotionally present."

Although Casey and Valerie have resumed visiting clients in person, the benefit of FaceTime technology remains. “Let’s reach families sooner than later, especially those who live out of state and can’t visit,” says Sarah. “Let’s invite them into virtual music therapy with their loved ones. So as a family they can cope, grieve and finally say good bye.”

Then others can experience what Janet, the daughter of a client, described in a recent letter thanking Valerie:

"I’ve virtually joined you in some of your treatment sessions with Mom, and I’ve seen how she just shines when you're there. That last session in particular — oh my, once we figured out how to have both you and me sing despite the audio canceling issue, Mom couldn't get enough:  'Another!' 'One more!' 'Don’t stop!' 'Just one more!' You took it down about half an octave for my alto range, and there we were, singing her favorite hymns and more to your sweet guitar accompaniment.  
"I cannot thank you enough. You bless Mom. You bless her family. And right now as I write this, I'm acutely aware of how much you bless me."


“We Will” is a series that spotlights inspiring examples of teamwork at PHS. With God’s blessing, We Will work together to build a better, brighter future for the older adults we serve.

Do you know someone looking for more purpose in their work? Share the good news and the many opportunities to join our team at Rated #1 employer in Minnesota by Forbes!

Further reading:
Virtual grief support groups
Open a door of hope through the power of remembrance
Finding hope: a journey into ‘an unfinished story’
What sort of care is offered by Optage Hospice?

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