I am SO excited about today’s episode because I am speaking with Julieann Hartley, also known as Miss Julieann, who is a board-certified neurologic music therapist. She works with a variety of populations but is most known for her work with NICU infants recovering from NAS (neonatal abstinence syndrome), children and adults on the autism spectrum, children and adults recovering from neurological diseases, trauma and TBIs.

Her album, Therapeutic Songs for Kids won a 2019 Parents’ Choice Award and is one of Kinderling Radio’s High Five featured albums. Julieann Hartley is also a certified nutritional therapy practitioner and became interested in nutrition after struggling with her chronic health issues for years. Julieann has a rare immune deficiency disorder that makes her more susceptible to infections and is currently recovering from a brain injury induced by a neurological Lyme infection. 

We are going to be talking all about how we can use music therapy to help support emotional resilience, coping skill development, communication, and auditory processing disorders in children, adults, and people with Dementia and Alzheimers. 

Experiencing Chronic Health Issues

Julieann’s health started to get worse in the last five years or so. For years, she had doctors telling her that she was smiling so she couldn’t be sick and that she seemed totally fine. She had Lyme Disease and for years her health was degrading. She kept asking her primary doctor for tests and he kept denying her because he said she didn’t look sick. But through this process of interacting with so many doctors, she became much more comfortable advocating for herself. 

She talks about the importance of listening to your own voice about your body. If something feels off, then something is off. Any sort of body feeling that feels negative are red flags, and it’s so important to be in tune and figure out what’s triggering those things and keep looking for answers. 

How Music Therapy Works 

Music therapy is using music and the relationship between music, the client, and the therapist to work on nonmusical goals. You might see someone come in, like an adolescent who attempted to commit suicide, and through a variety of music therapy and conventions, often the teenager will have a revelation about why they were trying to kill themselves and what the root of that might have been. 

It is all just neurological changes that are happening in the brain. How someone experiences trauma is different based on how our bodies process trauma through resiliency skills and genetics. When they experience trauma, what happens is that there is an injury in the brain and it affects the executive functioning part of the brain. This includes emotional regulation, organization, and attention. 

How Does Music Therapy Help? 

We know from neuroscience that music heightens the organization levels of the brain. For example, we see with children in autism that have a hard time with their gait, or pace of walking, that when you add a metronome to help stabilize, it helps raise the organization executive-level functioning of the brain and also help raise the motor skill organization of the brain, and they find the gait patterns start to normalize. 

Auditory Processing Disorders

There are so many different kinds of auditory processing disorders. Some people can’t distinguish high tones on the piano compared to the low tones, or a drum versus a trombone, because it inputs the same data. So they work on the basics and distinguishing the difference between auditory inputs. Sometimes it has to happen on a basic level.

If someone has an auditory processing disorder, it’s hard for them to function when someone is talking to them or giving them directions so it takes a lot more effort and work for their brains to interpret that. So when you break it down and work with someone with the very basic sounds, it helps strengthen that auditory muscle. Then they can start learning how to process what people are saying and what’s going on around them. 

We know from many MRIs that have been done on the brain, with a neurologic music therapist, you can strengthen those parts of the brain and see these skills improve over time. Auditory processing is one of the biggest factors that affect a child’s reading, writing, and language skills in life. If a child has music lessons early on in life and engages in music-making, or ear training, learning how to play with a beat, matching notes with your own voice, that is the biggest determining factor in a child’s reading, writing and language skills in life. 

How To Know If Music Therapy Is Right For You

Anyone can benefit from music therapy; it depends on your goals. Julieanne works closely with anyone who has a speech therapist to make sure they are matching on their goals and approaches so things are consistent. If you can get your speech therapist and physical therapist communicating with a music therapist and can all look at one particular symptom as a collective, look at all of the factors that are common and you will find so much more progress. 

In the assessment process, you can tell whether someone is motivated by music. For it to work, there needs to be some sort of motivation by the music. They need to want to be engaged. To get the active rewiring of the brain, you have to do more than listen, you have to be engaged. 

Does It Work? 

Music therapists cannot guarantee or promise anything. You might not see that your brain completely rewires itself right away. But the promise is that you are using evidence-based, and neuroscience-based interventions to help rewire the brain. You will get an assessment that helps you know what you want to be focused on, but it totally depends on someone’s willingness to engage with music. 

Music Therapy For Patients with Alzheimers and Dementia 

Julieann has gone into nursing homes, played a song, and often she’ll see at the beginning there isn’t a lot of eye contact, they may not even know their daughter or son is next to them, people might fall asleep. But then she would start playing a song that was popular during their era or based off a song meaningful to the client. Oftentimes, in these groups, Julieann sees that it raises their executive functioning level of the brain and it gets them to look at their daughter or husband and see these incredibly meaningful interactions that may not have been able to happen because of Alzheimers or Dementia. 

How You Can Use Music At Home 

There is a lot you can do at home to get started. It is really important to have active engagements with music. 

Julieann recorded a bunch of songs that she uses in her music therapy practice and they are songs she wrote to help her achieve these nonmusical goals. She put them on an album called Therapeutic Songs For Kids. All the songs are easy for parents to sing. Developmentally for children, there are certain musical patterns that we know are easier for them to process, and that are going to help encode data better and initiate speech patterns. 

Be okay with singing and making music even if you are not trained. Be comfortable with your voice. No one is going to sound like Celine Dion or Beyonce, but it is important to be okay with singing with your kid, and in doing so, showing your child a sense of confidence and self-esteem and that you are okay with being vulnerable, which is powerful on levels you can’t even measure!

Important Takeaways

  1. Make sure that people feel confident with their voice and advocate for themselves. It is so important to make sure that your voice is heard to create change and be successful at your goals. 
  2. Make music with your children actively. Singing to your child can be so important in helping them learn skills that they are struggling with. 
  3. Get a metronome, use it, and practice with it. The metronome can be really helpful in triggering and strengthening the parts of the brain that are struggling with auditory processing, such as the organization executive-level functioning of the brain and the motor skill organization. 
  4. No music is good or bad, it just depends on the person’s association with that music and how it’s being used as a tool. Some songs may not help your child feel connected to it, so it’s okay to experiment and find something that they are engaging with. 
  5. A neurological music therapist can be a really important and useful tool for your child. They would navigate what music would be appropriate to work with and how to use the different elements of music to be most developmentally appropriate. 

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