Delaware Public Media

Enlighten Me: Music therapy at the Music School of Delaware

Oct 11, 2019

The Music School of Delaware expanded its music therapy program earlier this year with the help of Audrey Hausig.

Delaware Public Media’s Sophia Schmidt recently visted Hausig to learn about how music therapy works and how it can help people in a variety of situations.

Audrey Hausig  joined the Music School of Delaware in March. 

She has helped the Music School offer more music therapy services at the Wilmington branch as well as facilities outside of the school — including behavioral schools and schools for people on the autism spectrum. The Music School also offers music therapy services for older adults at some local facilities. 

“In music therapy we use evidence-based interventions to help people work towards their goals and work toward greater health," she said. "What we would do is use singing, instrument playing, various kinds of music making whether it's songs that are familiar, or songs that we improvise or write. We do listening and discussing the music, all in the hopes to help people connect, to feel a certain level of safety and trust of the therapist and be able to work toward their goals.”

She says there are several reasons why music is therapeutic.

“We’re very musical people," she said. "The way we speak, the way we interact is musical."

"Something that’s really special about music is we can all be in the same space at the same time. In a verbal group, when everybody starts talking, people get angry and uncomfortable and we can’t hear what we’re all saying. But we can all make music at the same time, or even just two of us, and be in that space together.

Hausig adds that music is personal.

"If someone is going through something and I choose a song that they really relate to, that’s music from their genre, say it’s something from 1980 that only someone from New York who maybe is Puerto Rican would know, and I bring that, they’re going to connect—even though I’m from a different era and a different background."


Hausig says music can also be used to manipulate physiological responses.

“If someone has an unsteady breath— maybe it’s because they’re at the end of their lives— we can play along to their breathing, and it will be unsteady, which is uncomfortable for them. And then we gradually make our playing steady and their breathing goes with us, just like you can’t help but tap your foot to the music, the breath does the same thing, the heart rate can do the same thing ... If you’re working with someone who has no words at all, you can still connect and get responses from each other.”

Hausig has also worked with people struggling with addiction and substance use. She says a group will often discuss songs patients are familiar with, which can help them experience emotions or get them talking.  Groups will also write new songs and play music. 

“Strengths are so important for people who are struggling with substance use. They tend to have just overwhelming amounts of guilt and shame, and that can lead them to relapse or continue using while they’re still out using. So just working on strengths, working on having them feel connected and a sense of compassion. A way we can do that in music therapy is we might just write a song about strengths. In group work that’s really important, because if someone can’t find a strength within themselves maybe someone in the group can say, 'Well I notice that you’re really helpful, or you’re caring, or you’ve been through all this stuff but you're still upbeat.' So maybe making a list of strengths and then finding a song that reflects those strengths or even writing a song about those strengths, which can be really powerful because you’re hearing the group or maybe me as a therapist sing back to you all these good things about you."

Hausig says she will also lead a group dealing with substance use through an exercise exploring triggers. 

"What we’ll do is have one person take an instrument and play a steady rhythm, and that rhythm reflects them staying on their path to recovery. I encourage them to have somebody help them keep that steady rhythm, because asking for help is really hard … The rest of the group plays the trigger. So while someone is playing steadily, the rest of the group is just playing really erratically, seeing if they can throw them off. So then either they’re able to keep their steady beat or they’re not. And then we process it.”

Hausig says some participants can be resistant, especially if they are going through detox or experiencing emotions they have not felt in a while. She says she tries to break songwriting down into simple tasks, such as choosing between several riffs or tempos. 

“I like to use GarageBand, so we’re making beats and using loops. It’s all just a series of decisions. You don’t have to actually be playing the instruments. A lot of times there are really talented singers, rappers, musicians, instrument players too.”

Hausig says social justice and inequality are important for music therapists to keep in mind. 

“Most music therapists are white women. Not all, but an overwhelming majority … So that’s something that’s important for us to be aware of — be aware of our privilege. And I think within that to understand how social injustice and trauma affects the people we work with, and just be open to their experience and not be fragile when they describe what they’ve been through. Let it be a place where they can share what they need to share.”

Hausig says music therapists should value all different types of music. “Whether you like it or not. I personally cannot stand Journey, but I have played 'Don’t Stop Believing' five gazillion times because it helps people,” she said. “Just valuing people as individuals.”