Music therapy applauded

Music is being used for much more than entertainment on island. Today it helps people who have developmental, learning or other disabilities.

In fact, the Ministry of Education, Training and Employment hopes to expand music therapy in the coming 2011-12 budget year to include Alternative Education Services students who have the most challenging emotional and behavioural disorders.

Since October 2010, Sunrise Adult Training Centre clients as well as students at the Lighthouse School, Early Intervention, and Savannah Primary have participated in weekly music therapy sessions with Cayman Music Therapy founder Julianne Parolisi.

She has approximately 150 clients within the government system.

The service she offers is fairly new to Cayman, but according to the American Music Therapy Association, it’s an established healthcare option that uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs.

“Because music is a powerful yet nonthreatening medium, unique outcomes are possible,” Ms Parolisi said. “It touches each person in so many different ways, so participation offers significant opportunities for growth, creativity and expression that are less easily achieved through more traditional therapies.”

How it works

Her sessions typically include music improvisation and receptive listening, music composition or song writing, lyric discussions, singing or playing familiar songs, group music-making, and music technology projects.

During therapy sessions, Ms Parolisi also evaluates emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities and cognitive skills, all through her clients’ musical responses.

“Recognising that many children and adults who have special education needs require a broad range of therapeutic services, we were excited when the opportunity to work with Cayman Music Therapy materialised just after the start of the current school year,” said Brent Holt, senior policy adviser for special educational needs at the Ministry.

“Many of the student and adult participants have difficulty communicating, especially in expressing higher-level emotional needs,” he said. “Since introducing music therapy, we’ve witnessed improved social behaviour, among other excellent results.”

Sunrise Adult Training Centre Director Roberta Gordon agrees.

“Music has always been a very good motivator for our group, especially for those with little or no verbal ability,” she said. “Last year, our Christmas concert was phenomenal. Clients not only participated but actively planned the event. Some who are normally very quiet have become more confident and verbal after just a few months of therapy.”

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy helps strengthen abilities that can be transferred to other aspects of life. It provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who otherwise find it difficult to express themselves.

The Association further asserts that research supports the effectiveness of music therapy, saying it facilitates movement and overall physical rehabilitation, motivates people to cope with treatment, provides emotional support for clients and their families and an outlet to express feelings.


Julianne Parolisi uses music with a Lighthouse School Year 1 class.
Photo: Submitted