Music therapist visits Koelbel Library to raise awareness

Technique can help veterans, stroke patients, premature babies and those with mental health issues

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When Brittany Costa began playing the clarinet about 20 years ago, she had no idea it would lead her on a path to becoming a music therapist for veterans, children struggling with their mental health, people facing grief, premature babies and countless others. 

“Music therapy is very much musically involved, but therapeutically involved as well,” said Costa, who works as a music therapist at Creative Remedies and Rocky Mountain Music Therapy. “It just provides a way to achieve that optimal wellness to make you feel better, whether it’s quality of life, or soothing qualities, or working on injuries, or mental health issues — whatever it may be.” 

Despite the versatility of music therapy, there are still many people who don't know about it, Costa said. 

“Music therapy is not very acknowledged as a mental health practice,” she said, adding that most health insurance policies do not cover music therapy services. “People don’t even know what it is, and they don’t respect it. Our governor just vetoed a bill that is title protection for music therapists in the state of Colorado.”

On May 27, Governor Jared Polis vetoed the Music Therapist Title Protection bill, HB 22-1399, that would have made it a deceptive trade practice, and class 2 misdemeanor, for someone to claim they are a music therapist unless they hold an active music therapist board-certified credential. 

To help raise awareness about music therapy and advocate for it, Costa has been offering informational sessions about music therapy, and on June 14, she visited Koelbel Library, a part of Arapahoe Libraries located at 5955 S. Holly St. in Centennial, and she presented to a group of about 13 people about music therapy and its value.

The evolution of music therapy 

Costa began her presentation with an introduction to music therapy, which she said started in the 1940s during World War II. Musicians, she said, would play music as injured soldiers were tended to. 

“That was how music therapy started — was just to provide [a] better quality of life,” she said, explaining the musicians would play soothing and familiar sounds of home to the soldiers to help them feel better. “And then it developed into something else.”

Music therapy evolved to incorporate psychology and became something that could help people in a variety of ways, she said. This form of therapy is a reflexive process that is evidence-based, and it involves setting personalized goals with clients, using musical and therapeutic interventions to meet those goals and measuring progress along the way. 

The client, she said, could be a child with autism looking to practice social skills, a stroke patient working on speech and mobility skills, a premature baby that needs help relaxing to help improve their breathing, military veterans facing grief and trauma, and so on. 

“Music therapy is really helpful for anyone in any point of their life,” Costa said. “Even if you think, like, you’re the healthiest person in the world, I could probably find a way to get music therapy to benefit you in some nature.”

One of Costa’s clients, a preteen girl, is working on self love, confidence, self identity and emotional expression and identification, she said. The young girl came to her at the end of last summer, after she was hospitalized due to attempting suicide, Costa said. 

“She had a lot of stress, anxiety, depression that she was harboring. A lot of it was peer pressure,” Costa said. 

During the client’s stay in the hospital, she experienced music therapy and said it was one of the coolest things she had ever done, so once she was discharged, her mom reached out to Costa to begin sessions, Costa said.

“To watch her grow has been such an amazing experience,” Costa said, explaining that she could relate to her client feeling peer pressure and burying her emotions. “I’m gay and where I grew up was not very accepting, so I had to keep that closeted for a very, very long time.”

Costa self-disclosed to her client that when she was younger, she also dealt with feeling negative emotions. “She opened up a lot because we related to each other so much,” Costa said. “Seeing her grow and become more confident, and love the things that make her so unique and different from her friends, has been one of the best rewards.” 

There are different ways music can be used in a therapeutic session, Costa said. The music therapist can simply play music for the client to listen to, or the music therapist and client can create music together, either assembling original music or recreating other songs. Another method is for the music therapist and client to improvise together and make up new music as the session goes, something Costa enjoys doing. 

Clients do not need any prior experience playing music, Costa said. As a formally trained musician, she has all the musical training needed for the session. 

By Tayler Shaw
Brittany Costa performed a music-assisted relaxation session for people who attended the June 14 event.

Becoming a music therapist is a ‘lot of work’ 

To become a certified music therapist, one must attend an approved music therapy program, like a college program, Costa said, as well as complete a 1,200-hour clinical internship. Music therapists also must be able to play guitar, piano and percussion instruments, as well as be trained in voice performance.  

“It’s a lot of work to become a music therapist,” she said. A few states also require licensure, she said, though Colorado does not. All music therapists in the U.S., however, have to pass a certification board exam.

A current issue facing the industry is that people who claim to be a music therapist do not have to prove their certifications, Costa said, allowing for people who are not formal music therapists to claim they are one. 

This is an issue because although a musician volunteering to play at a hospital, for example, may be able to provide therapeutic music to people, the musician does not have the proper training in psychology and therapy treatments to be able to de-escalate a situation in which a person becomes triggered or lashes out during a session, Costa said. 

“The title protection is just to separate the actual music therapists from other musicians who consider themselves music therapists,” Costa said about the bill that Polis recently vetoed. 

From clarinet to Army to musical therapy

The journey to becoming a music therapist was unexpected. In 2006, when Costa was 17, she wanted to continue her musical education with the clarinet, but she had no way to pay for college. 

Because of the promise of a fully paid undergraduate education, Costa decided to enroll in the U.S. Army. She studied clarinet performance and became classically trained. She was on active duty for a total of six to seven years, she said, and she is currently in the Army National Guard in Colorado and she plays part-time with the 101st Army Band.

Costa discovered music therapy in about 2017 or 2018, she said, when she got a job as the department coordinator and project manager for a music therapy department at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Not knowing what music therapy was, she began learning about it and soon became interested. 

She decided to pursue the Equivalency Plus Master of Music Therapy at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. She will graduate from the program after completing her thesis and final course this summer, she said. 

This year, she also completed her 1,200-hour clinical internship and became a certified music therapist. She looks forward to continuing to help serve a variety of clients, especially veterans, while also raising awareness about music therapy overall.

“One of my goals as a music therapist is to bring more awareness of it and to provide awareness — to bring education to people, like this. This was awesome,” Costa said about the June 14 event.  

Becoming a music therapist was a consideration of Jennifer Noguera, a program manager for Opportunity and Living, which is a day program for adults with special needs. She hasn’t pursued it yet because of how much time it would take, she said, but when she learned about the music therapy event happening at Koelbel Library, she came along with about eight clients at the day program. 

Noguera enjoyed that towards the end of the presentation, Costa offered a music-assisted relaxation session for people who attended. Her biggest takeaway from the event was the therapeutic benefits music therapy can provide. 

“It’s just great, overall. Something, like she said, that people don’t know about, but even if you’re quote-unquote healthy, it’s still very beneficial,” Noguera said. “People should look into it.”

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