power of music therapyMusic Therapy: Healing both Therapist and Patient

Rick Soshensky has had a successful career as a music therapist for 20 years, after getting his MA at New York University and receiving his license from New York State in Creative Arts Therapy. But before that, he was a musician playing in clubs and bars in New York City, and he said during his presentation at the UTS Speakers' Forum that being a professional musician didn't bring him all that much happiness.

"When I played music in Greenwich Village, it really didn't change me. I still had my worries, my problems and lonliness. But when I started helping others in music therapy, it healed me," Rick told the audience Wednesday night at the Massena Mansion on the UTS campus.

Rick works with children, adolescents and adults with diverse diagnoses, such as mental illness, developmental and intellectual disabilities, autism, substance abuse, neurological disorders, and dementia to name a few.

He is the Director of the Fine & Performing Arts Department at Northeast Center for Special Care, a residential facility specializing in brain injury rehabilitation in Kingston, NY.

Rick uses both traditional therapy formats, recording sessions, and public performances to aid individuals recovering from profound traumas, which help children and adults to develop self-awareness, functional skills, confidence, and a sense of community through ongoing opportunities to play, compose and share music.

He told the story of a band performance he staged once with emotionally disabled teens, whose parents said they never could play together because most of the kids couldn't even sit still for five minutes, much less play together in a band. But Rick had hope. The night of the performance, there were over 300 people in the audience and the curtain was set to go up, and suddenly, one of the girls in the band started to cry uncontrollably. Rick didn't know what to do, but then another teen started singing the Star Spangled Banner, and all the kids joined in as the curtain went up. They put on a great show and the parents were amazed at what Rick accomplished with their children.

When working with people with disabilities, he sets five goals for them:
1. To gain some competence in music
2. To enhance their feeling that they have a positive and unique personality
3. To help students gain positive relationships with others
4. To give students a feeling that they are contributing to society
5. To gain pleasure for themselves through the music experience

People often ask Rick if he doesn't get depressed and find it very difficult to work with seriously disabled people. He responds by explaining that every time he initiates a music experience with his patients, he strives and usually is able to inject the feeling of joy into the situation through music. He feels it is a very spiritual experience, and one that he didn't find that often when performing as a professional musician.

"Even though I work with people who have serious problems, it isn't depressing because music therapy always puts joy into the various conditions that are brought to the situation," he said.

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