Depression : Music as Medicine

Sarah Hofius Hall, The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa.

Around the corner and down a hallway, the melody of "Feliz Navidad" is coming from a room with a two-way mirror.

Inside the room at Marywood University, Alex Conte strums a guitar. His therapist sings a verse of the popular Christmas song, and Alex, who has severe autism, sings a few of the words. His mom, sitting behind the glass, smiles.

For 19-year-old Alex, communication is found in music.

Alex is one of more than a dozen people who are seen weekly at the music therapy clinic at Marywood University. He started going to the clinic at age 4.

"He loves it. He looks forward to it," said his mother, Debbie Conte of Blakely. "It's just what makes him happy."

Marywood is now looking to expand the music therapy program, which has 32 students. If more students are enrolled, the clinic will be able to help even more people, said clinic coordinator Maria Fay.

Music therapy can be used to manage stress and meet specific needs, including developmental, psychological, social and emotional. For Alex, it gives him a way to communicate.

Curriculum for Marywood students includes courses on musical and clinical foundations, and students must complete a six-month internship after graduation before taking a national certification exam. Families are charged $20 per 30-minute session.

Senior Anna Rennekamp of Lake Twp. works with Alex each week. Once she becomes certified, she hopes to work in a hospice setting.

"You can reach any population," she said. "Music is something everyone can relate to."

At the clinic, after Alex had lost interest in "Feliz Navidad," he pointed to the next instrument he wanted to play: the tone bars. It was time for "Row, row, row your boat." He hit the tone bars to the beat of the song.

"This is just what he enjoys," Ms. Conte said.

Contact the writer: shofius@timesshamrock.com, @hofiushallTT on Twitter

(c)2012 The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pa.)

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