SOUTHINGTON— With growing interest in music therapy as an alternative to standard therapy, the Record-Journal recently sat down at the piano at Infinity Music Therapy Services on Queen Street with founder and therapist Jona Jeffcoat of Meriden to chat about her career and lifelong passion for music and helping people.
Q: What exactly is music therapy?
Jeffcoat: Music therapy is a data-based allied health profession. We are literally taking music and throwing it into everything that we do in order to work on non-musical goals. So we’re actually specialists that use music to work on things like communication, social skills, emotional literacy. You name something that someone needs and we’re using music to reach that goal.
Q: How did you get into this field?
Jeffcoat: When I was about four years old I started volunteering in a nursing home. My mom and my grandmother both worked there so I had tons of adopted grandparents. I would roam the halls and they of course loved music and so I started learning how to play the flute and I found out my grandparents who couldn’t talk would sing when I played. From the time I was about in fourth grade I really wanted to help the world with music.
Q: When did you decide to create your own practice?
Jeffcoat: I really started getting into a lot of different ways to help. I worked on a farm for people with mental health disorders, I babysat for kids in foster care, and then I found out about music therapy. It infused everything that I absolutely loved.
My business kind of came from all that background and then seeing such a huge need in the community and having these clients come to me. I founded Infinity Music Therapy Services in 2010.
Q: What is the history of this type of therapy?
Jeffcoat: Music therapy started around WWI and WWII. They were starting to see musicians come into the hospitals and having a really good response from veterans coming out of war. They were in a better mood, they were getting out sooner, having less symptoms, and so it was established around then.
Q: What ages do you service here?
Jeffcoat: Our youngest has been about three weeks old and our oldest has been about 103.
Q: What kind of conditions do you service?
Jeffcoat: We work with children and adults with developmental disabilities like autism, Down syndrome, apraxia, ADHD. We also work with children and adults with mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, reactive attachment disorder.
We also go into nursing homes and work in memory care units and for individuals who have had a stroke or traumatic brain injury.
Q: What is a session like here?
Jeffcoat: It really varies. Music therapy is client driven, so we’re looking at client preferences, their learning styles and what their individualized needs are. We take their strengths and use them to work on their goals according to a formal treatment plan.
Q: How do you integrate music into therapy?
Jeffcoat: During any session you may see us doing therapeutic instrument play which means we’re using instruments to work on things like gross motor patterns or sensory integration. You may see us doing songwriting to work on goal setting or anger management.
A lot of times we’ll even do sensory stimulation using particular instruments that really engage the sensory system on a whole different level to work with individuals like people on the autism spectrum.
Q: What instruments do you feel are most popular with the children that come here?
Jeffcoat: Rain sticks are really good. They’re great for visual stimulation, it’s also great for crossing midline when you bring your body across. So we can work on gross motor patterns. For some of my clients they are very motivated by visual stimulation.
Q: What are some skills you need in your field?
Jeffcoat: As music therapists we know where to watch the music, to stop it , to cue speech. We know how to organize our intervals and how we structure our sound and our song to give them opportunities to respond.
That includes learning how to formally assess somebody, write an appropriate treatment plan, take data and also proficiency in guitar, voice, piano, minimum. Most of us play a lot of other instruments.
Q: What’s your favorite instrument to play?
Jeffcoat: That’s really hard, flute was my favorite for the longest time. I really enjoy playing my guitar a lot now.
Q: Why is music therapy more beneficial for some than traditional or standard therapy?
Jeffcoat: Music therapy tends to be almost the last stop because they’ve tried all the traditional types of treatment and now they’re thinking what’s left? Music is the only sensory stimuli that engages both sides of the brain which is fascinating when you look at how the brain responds. So when we have someone who is not responding to traditional treatment or maybe is just not getting as much as they could, a lot of times the music provides a non-verbal way of processing emotions, provides other opportunities to respond to speech language or kind of forces social engagement.
They think of it as just getting music lessons when it really is a therapeutic approach. So it’s not as threatening a lot of times.
More information can be found at http://www.infinitymusictherapy.com/ or by calling 860-518-5557