Music as therapy

"Music therapist Barbara Dunn and Brennan Wilder-Gold play kazoos together in a music session.Music touches everyone. This is the premise behind the career of Barbara Dunn, a Clinton musician who has become noted nationally for her work as a music therapist.Music stimulates the emotions, the intellect and the body, Dunn said. It can be deeply personal, yet also very powerful.Of course, it has to be the right music for the right person. And over nearly 20 years, Dunn has perfected her insight and perception into the sounds that will provide help and inspiration to people ranging from those with AIDS and cancer to children with developmental disabilities or artists with a creative block. Dunn has been a professional music therapist since 1982, earning her master's degree in social work in 1987. In 1988 she spent a year living in New Zealand, studying ethnomusicology at Victoria University. Her musical expertise encompasses vocal performance, piano, guitar, recorder and assorted instruments.No wonder she can know what music will be meaningful to those she works with.You need a hook, she said. There's a kid who doesn't interact but loves electric guitar. You engage him through music. For those alone and managing pain, we write songs as communication. Sometimes it's easier that way.Dunn tells of a woman who was dying, and who had been estranged from a family member.I helped her write and record a song, which she sent as a letter, Dunn said. Her relative came out, they met again, and there was closure.At Bailey-Boushay House in Seattle, Dunn is part of the Healing Arts program. A cancer patient who described herself as a closet singer worked with Dunn to learn the keyboard, then sing in a group sing-along, beginning to focus on the healing powers of music. Dunn also leads 45-minute jam sessions , providing songbooks with the words to popular songs and a variety of percussion instruments. She sings and plays the guitar, while the others do whatever they like.It's fun, and therapeutic for everyone. Music takes us away from pain, reminds us that while the body may be failing, the spirit is still there.Dunn's private practice includes persons with AIDS, developmental disabilities, chronic and acute mental illnesses, physical and/or medical challenges, at-risk youth, children, adults and older adults. She has led groups and performed at meetings.A conference of teachers opens with music and singing; they learn how to integrate music into their teaching, she said. There are creative uses for music in the classroom. You can use music to teach math, incorporate writing skills through songwriting.She has worked with people who have developmental disabilities such as autism, giving them what she calls a language in music that allows them to communicate with others. She has helped treat clients with chronic pain and medical challenges; those who suffer from anxiety, Parkinson's disease or panic attacks; those with lives in difficult transition.Music helps them. They feel more relaxed, and that relaxation extends to their mental, emotional and physical health, Dunn said. Music can act as a stimulus or anchor to elicit a response in the healing process.Dunn teaches workshops and classes throughout the Puget Sound region and has recently begun a music therapy program at Music Works Northwest. Her approach is a multisensory one: Clients are actively engaged in a therapeutic arts process that may include songwriting, improvisation, listening and/or relaxation to music, singing and/or instrument playing. The act of creating music can communicate ideas and truth in feeling that exceeds the spoken word, Dunn said. Music stimulates the emotions, the intellect, and the body. It can be deeply personal, yet also very powerful in uniting a group, bringing people to share interaction and a common response.Dunn was the 1999 recipient of the Professional Practice Award in Music Therapy from the American Music Therapy Association. She is also a founding member of the Music Therapy Association of Washington. Her Web site is; she can be reached by phone at 221-4110 or by e-mail at "

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