During a google search of college majors, I saw the words “music therapy” together for the first time. Of course, it caught my attention, and I read as much information about it as possible. People use music as a tool for therapy, songs and instruments to heal. Finally, something that I felt excited about pursuing: however, I remember one night very clearly. I was in my dorm room researching music therapy and came across a YouTube video of a music therapist and a young boy with special needs. I watched the two communicate through music, a back and forth conversation without spoken words. They are very aware of each other, the music therapist playing the guitar and the boy with a shaker. You could see the joy on the boy’s face and the intentionality from the music therapist. I watched this exchange as tears ran down my face because I knew this wasn’t just a career for me; it was a calling.
I began my music therapy journey at Maryville University in St. Louis, MO. I had such a wonderful experience learning, observing, and practicing music therapy there. My first clinical experience was with children ages 3-4 with speech delays. This was a group of about five kids and their parents. We sang songs, read books, and did theme activities while learning how to use music to facilitate therapeutic goals. For example, we always sang a hello song at the beginning. This would allow each child to engage in the group and practice saying the word “Hello.” The music encouraged the children to practice their speech and to become more confident interacting with other peers.
My next clinical experience was with an adolescent girl on the Autism Spectrum. I did music therapy sessions with my supervisor in her home. I saw how music helped her open up to the world and how she could use it to regulate her emotions. Music, for her, was a safe way to express herself and helped her learn communication skills through drumming activities and songwriting. This experience was very special because this led to me choosing an internship with an autistic population.
My favorite experience, however, was working at Mercy Kid’s Hospital. I was a department assistant for the Child Life team, where I worked under their music therapist and learned how music therapy works in a pediatric hospital. I still dream of working there someday because of that experience and what I witnessed there. I did music therapy with all ages, from tiny NICU babies to 18-year-olds. I sang songs 2 with kids who were there for anything from burst appendixes to terminal cancer. I used music relaxation techniques to help toddlers through bandage changes in the burn unit. I saw a child smile for the first time since being admitted by only bringing the cart of musical instruments into the room. I had the honor of making music with teenagers who didn’t want to live and singing lullabies to babies whose parents lived too far away to see them every day. Working at that children’s hospital is an experience I will never forget, and it only grew my passion for music therapy. I take those experiences into my current professional life. I am forever grateful to the people who allowed me to care for their patients and bring music into those hospital rooms.
My next experience was my internship at Easterseals Midwest in Poplar Bluff, MO. Easterseals is an autism support clinic. There, I did music therapy with children ages 3-18, and I saw a couple of adults aged 35-50 years old on the autism spectrum. I saw how incredible music therapy was for the individuals there. Sometimes, they would only respond to music. We used music therapy to teach ABCs and colors; we also used it to teach communication skills and emotional regulation. We had a rock band with the teenagers where they learned to play an instrument, engage with people their age, and practice social skills. I had kids who did not use spoken language but felt understood through the songs we played together and using music to teach them how to use their communication devices. Music was a vehicle for creative expression, successful environments, and changes in behavior. It helped me learn how to evaluate therapeutic needs and create music interventions to help those individuals reach their goals.
Never in a million years would I have thought there was a profession so individually tailored to my gifts and skills as music therapy is. I am grateful every day that I have a job where I get to do what I do. Music is such a powerful tool, even outside of a therapeutic environment. But incredible healing can happen when you combine the two, music and therapy.
From Dr. Fabing: Shelby Robbs is a very gracious, sincere professional whose gift of music therapy brings healing.
Hello! I'm Dr. Fabing
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), PhD
Over the last 50 years, I have counseled individuals ranging from suicidal to those wanting to manage stress better. My expertise is quickly getting to the root issues troubling the whole person (mind, body, and spirit). I equip people with the Biblical tools they need to overcome the trials of life. God has a design for how we manage stress. When we follow His pattern it empowers us to live with the happiness we all desire. Set up an appointment today and I will help you maximize your potential in Christ Jesus.
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