Our Interview with Music Therapist Rachael FInnerty!

  1. Brief description of your background and your clinical work

Back Ground:Rachael Finnerty RP, MTA, MMT, MA

Registered Psychotherapist, Music Therapist Accredited

Rachael has been working as a music therapist since 2001. Before moving to Hamilton in 2007, Rachael was employed as a music therapist at Sunnybrook Hospital working in general medicine and the residential facility. She completed research re: music therapy as an intervention for pain perception, at Sunnybrook.

Rachael has experience working with all age groups and diagnosis – such as Autism, Acquired Brain Injury, Mental Health, palliative care and Dementia. In recognizing the positive impact of music therapy, Rachael has initiated music therapy programs in over 30 facilities, including McMaster’s Children’s Hospital, as well as creating and teaching the music therapy courses taught at McMaster University. She is recognized by the Canadian Association of Music Therapy as a supervisor for music therapy interns and has also taught music therapy courses at Wilfrid Laurier University. Rachael is recognized by the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario and was the president of the Music Therapy Association of Ontario from 2010-2014.

  1. What made you get involved in this type of practice?

“Growing up” I wanted to be a psychologist or a speech therapist.   I played the piano, and completed my RCM exams, but didn’t have any interest in performing. As I was completing my undergrad in psychology, I came to learn about music therapy and realized that this field of work would enable me to combine my interest in psychology, speech/communication and music.

  1. The types of methods you use for different clients/ how do you accommodate to everyone’s needs.

I implement an eclectic model, meaning that I draw upon a diversity of interventions to best meet the needs of the client. These interventions include song writing, music listening, verbal processing, playing instruments, lyric analysis, improvising, live music and pre-recorded music.

  1. What types of neurological disorders do you find work well with music therapy?

Music therapy can have a significant positive impact on individuals with a neurological disorder as music abilities (the ability to engage in music ) often remains intact. Music can often engage the healthy areas of the brain that are otherwise not being accessed.

5. Do you think music therapy is underrated?

I think that people generally need to be more educated about what music therapy is and the health benefits of music therapy. As well as understanding the difference between music therapy (a health care profession) and music entertainment.

  1. What do people not know about music therapy?

Many people do not realize the training involved in becoming an accredited music therapist. Particularly if the music therapist is using the act of psychotherapy in their work. In this case, the music therapist needs to be accredited by the Canadian Association of Music Therapy, as well as recognized by the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario. Also completion of a recognized Master Music Therapy, 1000hrs of internship experience, and being an accomplished musician.

  1. Do you think that music therapy can be applied to a broader range of disorders than commonly thought?

Music therapy is currently being applied to a very large range of health care needs. Acquired brain injury, mental illness, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Parkinson’s Disease, Pain management, Dementia, MS, Cerebral Palsy, Addictions, PTSD, bereavement, palliative care, in prisons, schools, hospitals, day programs, long term care facilities……

  1. Does music therapy work differently on everybody? Are there people who are more susceptible to change?

Music therapy is an individual process. However, individuals with Autism do tend to have a particularly strong positive response to engaging in music.   Also, individuals with dementia tend to respond particularly positively to music therapy interventions which include meaningful pre-composed music.

  1. Do you know if music therapy is commonly recommended by doctors who diagnose people with neurological disorders?

“Commonly” may be a strong word. But I have worked with many clients who were referred to music therapy through their doctor or other health care practitioner.

10. Do you think music therapy is a better alternative for particular disorders (for example antidepressant prescriptions)?

Music therapy, as any other health care intervention, is best when used in collaboration with other interventions, and when health care practitioners are working together for the best health of the client/patient.

  1. Do you have any experience or knowledge on the effects of music therapy on speech impediments, autism, dementia, depression specifically?

Often, individuals with a speech impairment can still sing without any impairment as the area of the brain responsible for speech is different than singing.

Individuals with Autism who struggle with building social interactions such as “hello”, “goodbye”, eye contact and turn taking, are able to build these skills through music therapy interventions.

Individuals with Dementia can often recall the lyrics to meaningful music even after they have lost the ability to recall the names of loved ones.

Individuals with Depression often find self-expression through lyric writing and improvising a manageable and normalizing experience relatable to being healthy.

12. Can you recall a moment in your experience with music therapy that you always carry with you?

13. What was the most dramatic change you saw in a client?

12& 13

I have many amazing moments that I carry with me. Working as a music therapist has provided me with the opportunity to work with all age groups and so many different health care needs.   As music has the ability to access ability beyond the definitions of a diagnosis, I have witnessed individuals reach health care goals that had been thought not possible.

I would like to share an experience with an elderly man with cognitive decline who was living in a facility who did not want to be there, and did not feel he needed any help, and refused to engage in any supports.

When I met with him – he was not interest in music therapy. I noticed a shoebox on his bed with music cassettes in it. I asked what was on the cassettes and he told me that he had recorded his self-written poetry on them. I asked if we could use one of his poems as lyrics to a song as a way to share his poetry.

He chose a poem called “Remember Me”. With his guidance I wrote several melodies for his poem, until he felt we had it right.

We recorded the song, and made copies for his 2 daughters. He was so proud to share his poetry through song. The whole process was empowering for him. Reminding him of his abilities and that he can still contribute to creating something.

Several weeks after presenting the recording to his daughters, he died. The song was played at his funeral, and the words Remember Me are written on his gravestone. This process enabled this gentleman not only to experience meaningful moments in his last months, but to share them with his loved ones. The outcome continued to be beneficial as a means of comfort to family members as his memory and music stays with them.



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