Music therapy helps those with disabilities

Jennifer L. Kass, a board certified music therapist, works with Carl Hanson, 15, during a recent class at the Community Music School of Springfield. Carl has Williams syndrome and has found that participating in music therapy sessions has helped him stay focused in school and at home.Reminder Publications photo by Lori O'Brien-Szepelak
By Lori O'Brien-Szepelak


SPRINGFIELD Using music as a tool to reach nonmusical goals is what drives a unique program at the Community Music School of Springfield.

Music therapy is an established allied health care profession that uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual and social needs of individuals of all ages, according to Jennifer L. Kass, MA, MT-BC, a board certified music therapist at the Community Music School of Springfield (CMSS). She is a graduate of Lesley University's Music Therapy Masters Program, and has been practicing in the field for six years.

Kass explained during an interview with Reminder Publications that music therapy improves the quality of life for children and adults with disabilities or illnesses.

"One of the most prominent benefits of working within the music is that a therapeutic rapport is built between the therapist and client," said Kass. "Within this safe space that is created, the client will generally be more able to express their thoughts and feelings to the therapist."

Kass noted that music therapy interventions can be designed to promote wellness, manage stress, alleviate pain, express feelings, enhance memory, improve communication and promote physical rehabilitation.

"I use the music as a tool to reach nonmusical goals," said Kass, adding, "those goals can be for communication, self-expression, or to address issues that can be difficult to do verbally."

With some students, the goals may be behavioral, according to Kass.

"In these cases, the music acts as a motivator for the student," she said. "Some have physical goals, and in these cases, we can use the playing of different instruments to work on fine and gross motor skills."

Anyone who finds music interesting or motivating can be helped through music therapy, added Kass.

"While many of my students have developmental delays, differing degrees of mental retardation or very commonly a form of autism, it is also possible to use music therapy with children or adults who function on a normal level and would like to try exploring their emotions through music," said Kass.

At the CMSS, music therapy students are currently seen on an individual basis by appointment.

"As the Music Therapy Department grows, we are hoping to be able to start some music therapy groups, where clients of different functioning levels and musical abilities can come together and make music," added Kass.

Kass noted that her current students range in age from 11 to 30, but she has also worked with much younger students, and those into the geriatric range.

"Music therapy sessions are the one place where the music is not necessarily the goal of the session but rather the tool used within the session," she said, noting that the CMSS has a wealth of instruments that can be used by clients, including full drum sets, pianos, and xylophones.

"The open space allows students to explore dance and movement, while our being on the top floor gives us the privacy to be as loud as we want or need to be," she added.

Kass also emphasized that the concept of music therapy has the opportunity to bring the community together, uniting people with and without disabilities.

"When we come together to make music, we are leveling the playing field," she said. "How well you play the instrument is not as important as the fact that you have come together to share your time and energy with others in the community."

With most students, measuring success can sometimes be hard to quantify in music therapy.

"With most students, it is a process where goals are worked on for years, and progress is made incrementally," said Kass, adding, "it is worked in as part of their individualized education plan when they are in school, and evaluated year by year."

Kass noted that on a personal level, she feels that every student she works with is a success story because they develop and grow over the years, and make their parents and her proud.

"When a child has special needs, it can be harder to see progress," she said. "The smallest steps can really be huge for them."

One of Kass' success stories is Carl Hanson, 15, who has Williams syndrome. Williams syndrome is a rare genetic condition which causes medical and developmental problems.

"Music is Carl's main motivation, so it works well as an environment in which to reach other goals," said Kass. "He and I work together on a variety of goals ranging from organization and patience to turn taking."

Kass added that one area they have worked on a great deal is singing a song through to the end.

"It's taken work on both of our parts to find songs that will be engaging, but by taking a task in the music therapy setting and taking it to completion, we are modeling the way that tasks can be handled in the outside world," she said.

For more information on the CMSS music therapy program, call 732-8428 or visit

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