Mental Illness Myths Exploded — Music Therapy Can Help

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.”


Mental Illness is as real as cancer — you can’t “think” your way out of it.

By Bob Aronson

Get over it!  emotional baggageIt’s all in your head,” was and is a common utterance by those who don’t understand that just because it is in your head doesn’t make it less real.  Will power cannot dislodge demons of the mind any more effectively than it can stop cancer.   Both are real, both are serious and treatment for both is available and necessary.

The difference between the two is that while we accept illnesses of the body as real illnesses we, as a society, have not yet fully accepted mental illness as a disease and until we do greater societal problems will ensue.

Both pre and post transplant patients suffer from depression.  Some suffer from other mental illnesses as well.  Just because we need or have had an organ or tissue transplants doesn’t mean we aren’t subject to all the ills that befall everyone else.  In reality we may be more susceptible because we have come face to face with death.  Many of us live with it for years.  You can’t get on the transplant list unless you have an end stage disease. That’s fancy doctor talk for, “You are dying.”

This blog is about one approach to helping people with emotional or other problems involving the brain…music.  Before we get into solutions, though, it is important to understand the problem.pencil optimism

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that although mental health and mental illness are related, they represent different psychological states.

Mental health isa state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”1 It is estimated that only about 17% of U.S adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health.2 There is emerging evidence that positive mental health is associated with improved outcomes.

Mental illness is defined as “collectively all diagnosable mental disorders” or “health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.”2 Depression is the most common type of mental illness, affecting more than 26% of the U.S. adult population.3 It has been estimated that by the year 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of disabimental illness montagelity throughout the world, trailing only ischemic heart disease.4

Evidence has shown that mental disorders, especially depressive disorders, are strongly related to the occurrence, successful treatment, and course of many chronic diseases including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and obesity5 and many risk behaviors for chronic disease; such as, physical inactivity, smoking, excessive drinking, and insufficient sleep.

Unfortunately public acceptance of mental illness treatment has been slow in coming despite the fact that many effective treatments have existed for a long time.  Often people who are affected don’t seek help because of the embarrassment of being labeled “mentally ill”

Mental Health America (MHA) is trying to dispel the myths surrounding mental illness.  The five most common are: ( )

busting the myths

Myth #1: Mental illness is the same as mental retardation.

The Facts: Mental illness and mental retardation are entirely different disorders. Mental retardation is primarily characterized by limitations in intellectual functioning, while intellectual functioning varies among persons with persistent mental illness just as it does across the general population.

Myth #2: Recovery from mental illness is impossible.

The Facts: While these illnesses are persistent, research has shown that with treatment, the majority of people with mental illnesses achieve genuine improvement in their symptoms over time and lead stable, productive lives. As the treatment of mental illness has advanced, the focus of treatment has shifted from simply minimizing symptoms to true recovery-that is, the reintegration into mainstream society, including (and perhaps most importantly) the world of work.

Myth #3: Mentally ill and mentally restored employees (that is, those in whom mental illness is effectively treated) tend to be second-rate workers.

The Facts: Far from being inferior workers, individuals with mental illnesses may in fact be superior in many ways to their co-workers without mental illness. Employers who have hired these individuals report that their attendance and punctuality exceed the norm, and that their motivation, work quality, and job tenure is as good as — or better than — that of other employees. Research has shown that there is no difference between the productivity of workers with and without mental illness.

Myth #4: People with psychotic disabilities cannot tolerate stress on the job.

The Facts: The response to job-related stress, and precisely which factors will be perceived as stressful, vary among individuals with psychiatric disabilities just as they do among people without such disabilities. For all workers — with or without psychiatric disabilities — productivity is optimized when there is a close match between the employee’s needs and his or her working conditions.

Myth #5: Mentally ill and mentally restored individuals are unpredictable, potentially violent, and dangerous.

The Facts: This myth is reinforced by media portrayals of people with mental illnesses as frequently and randomly violent. However, a research literature review conducted at Cornell University found absolutely no evidence to support such portrayals. The fact is that the vast majority of individuals with psychiatric disabilities are neither dangerous nor violent.

we don't want you

So, Given that we understand the myths and can deal with them let’s look at one form of therapy that can be and has been very effective in some cases.

While mental illness was not an issue, a serious brain injury was in the case of former congresswoman Gabby Gifford  Gabby Giffodwho was seriously wounded when shot in the head in an attempted assassination.   Her therapists have used music to help her learn to walk and speak again, as well as give her an emotional boost along her stunningly difficult path.  If you want to learn more about the Gifford story click on this link from ABC TV news.

The power of music

Music can help rewire the brain after a traumatic injury, stroke or accident. In all of us, Our own playlist of personal favorites can help to:colorful notes on staff

  • Trigger memories. Think of jingles that remind you of a company’s name, or that song that always takes you back to your senior year of high school.
  • Promote learning. Next time you have a phone number or list of terms to remember, try putting it to music. Elicit emotions. The movie industry has long known how to use background music to heighten terrifying, tragic or exhilarating moments.
  • Provide motivation. Chores can become an entirely different experience when set to an energetic beat. Improve coordination. If you hear music while you’re walking, you can’t help but to walk to the beat. That’s a biological process called “entraining,” in which a rhythm and melody pull us into synchrony with them.
  • Reduce stress and pain. Calming music can entrain you to breathe deeply and the memories music elicits can remind you of happier, more peaceful times and places.Source: Concetta Tomaino, executive director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function at the Beth Abraham Family of Health Services in New York.

Music holds a unique role in human life. Its rhythms help organize movements — almost no one can resist a good beat. Music brings up memories. And music, it seems, can help retrain the speech centers of the brain.

I could go on here and offer quote after quote about what music therapy is and does but the best way to for readers to know how it works is to listen to what patients have to say.  The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) has a section on its web site where patients relate their experience with music therapy.  Here are just a few, you can read more by going to the AMTA site.

Parent testimonial, written by Tamera Norris

Music has the power to enrich the mind of a child with autism. Many people with autism have limited verbal expression. They live a life of involuntary silence.road to recovery “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” (Aldous Huxley) That is the reason why “music (became) the shorthand of (William’s) emotions.” (Leo Tolstoy) It gave him opportunities for speech, emotional contact and mental focus.

From the age of four through his current age of 16, William has taken a music bath once or twice a week at The Music Settlement. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “…a music bath… is to the soul what the water bath is to the body.” Music has flown out, immersing restless feelings, calming William, minimizing his hesitation. Then it ebbed and he met the eyes of the therapist. With the guidance of Ronna Kaplan and other music therapists, William has developed, encouraged to tune his fine and gross motor skills. The therapy program made use of live and recorded music, pre-planned dialogues for the clients and sound effects. While learning to play instruments, William also learned life skills. “Music (became the soundtrack of (his) life.” (Dick Clark)

Being born with autism makes it difficult to interact with others or communicate verbally. It causes the affected person to be unaware of reacting in ways that others do not commonly react in society. Music therapy provided William a non-threatening environment in which to build relationships with peers, express himself verbally and nonverbally and learn to participate in socially acceptable ways. This was achieved through group therapy, as well as individualized sessions. Both forms were ideal for William, because individual lessons allowed him to learn at his own pace. These lessons were tailored to meet his needs. They helped him to learn to read music, follow a rhythm, and to respect the need to display the proper behavior in the proper situation. Small group therapy required him to learn to take turns and to be a focused member of a team. He had to use proper questions and verbal responses. He had to learn to be both leader and supportive member. This even carried over to life outside of The Music Settlement, as William auditioned for and earned a position on a regular team of drummers for his school. He was able to perform at the House of Blues in front of a large, noisy audience, with no problem. This was not something that he would have been able to withstand before his experiences in music therapy.

We are very pleased and thankful for the progress that William has made over the years and we foresee him continuing to flourish with additional music therapy. The combination of an excellent music therapy curriculum and an enthusiastic, care-giving staff, has enabled William not to just, “…go where a path might lead, but instead to go where there is no path and leave (his) trail.”  (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I am closing with a short poem, expressing my feelings about The Music Settlement and its staff. It is simply entitled, Thank You.

Thank You

Music therapy teaches
Social skills.
It’s about communication.
It’s about what William’s taught,
In nurturing situations.
He’s learned patience
And tolerance,
Growing in many ways.
His social skills developed,
Made him what he is today.
So, thank you for your guidance,
As only music can touch.
Thank you for reaching our William,
Because it means so much.

A physician/patient  talks about his recovery.

R.B.Fratianne, MD.  Prof. of Surgery, CWRU Dir. Emeritus, Burn Center Metrohealth Med. Center.  I was deeply honored by the gracious invitation to attend this year’s annual meeting of The AMTA and receive the Advocate of the Year Award. At the meeting, I was impressed by the level of enthusiasm and dedication to excellence shown by the highly trained professionals I met. They radiated pride in their work coupled with an intense sense of fellowship which made me feel welcome and respected – even though I was a rookie. For this I am very grateful.

I learned the value of music therapy first-hand when I had a brain tumor diagnosed several years ago. Fortunately it was not a cancer, piano keyboardbut my recovery from major cranial surgery was slow and difficult. I was given physical/occupational and speech therapy. The music therapist working with me on the burn unit knew I played piano by ear and she suggested I work out on the piano as part of my therapy. At first everything seemed strange and “nothing” worked. Molly wouldn’t let me quit. I wanted to – it was frustrating! Slowly I began the feel at home at the keyboard and all my other therapies started to become more effective. I could “think” better.

Music therapy forced my brain to respond to the complex patterns of pitch, tempo and melody, and forced me to integrate motor function with the psycho-acoustic properties of what I was trying to express. I promptly regained my surgical skills at my pre-operative level and returned to practice on the burn unit. This response is known as neuro-plasticity; the unique ability of the brain to bypass injured areas and to re-teach the damaged brain how to regain more normal function.

I believe music therapists play an important, but often overlooked, role in helping patients cope with the effects of illness, pain, loneliness and fearful apprehension about the future of their health. Unfortunately all too often, music therapy is not reimbursed by insurance companies and many hospitals, therefore, do not use this modality of patient care. Other traditional forms of therapy, i.e. physical/occupational/speech etc., have demonstrated they are a cost effective addition to patient recovery. Insurance companies are therefore willing to compensate hospitals for these services and they generate income for the medical facility.

Music therapy professionals MUST produce evidence that their services provide a cost effective addition to other forms of care. THAT MEANS GOOD SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH must be carried out to demonstrate what we all believe. It is not enough to show a reduction in pain and anxiety with music therapy. Research must show a reduction in length of stay or improved patient outcomes for patients such as those sustaining head trauma/post traumatic stress disorder etc. Only then will insurance companies agree to reimburse hospitals/nursing homes for music therapy services; and more medical facilities will be able to incorporate music therapy as a standard of care. Then patients will receive the services we all know will benefit them. May God Speed your efforts on behalf of the patients you serve.


The Knot at the End of the Rope

Submitted by Florence Cohen

 end of the rope

My father lived life with strength and determination.  As complications associated with diabetes diminished his physical capabilities, his indomitable will to combat the disease fervently hammered away.  A WW II Navy Seal, Joe Altman lived by a simple rule; when you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.

When dementia struck hard and violently broke through Dad’s spirit, music therapist Alessandro Ricciarelli entered his life.  Armed with six strings attached to a wooden guitar, Alessandro surpassed the capabilities of the most sophisticated medical technology.

Each time Alessandro walked through the door, an invisible wall formed around them, creating a comfortable space in which a trusting bond of friendship would quickly form.  Alessandro brought with him happiness, encouragement, added a sense of meaning and purpose to Dad’s life, and, in doing so, resuscitated his spirit.  In a most gentle way, Alessandro treated Joe with the utmost dignity and respect.

Alessandro’s dedication was not limited to actual hospital visits; he took personal time to learn songs that were relevant to Dad and made recordings of their sessions together to be enjoyed at any given time.  Alessandro appreciated the power of positive thoughts, and with his kind words, a smile, compassion, and a true desire to make Dad happy, he encouraged Dad’s participation, leaving us with cherished memories of my father having one last chance to express himself through music, smiling and enjoying life.

In a very real sense, Alessandro was that knot at the end of the rope on to which Dad grabbed.  I am forever grateful to the Music Therapy Program at NYU Medical Center, more specifically, to Mr. Alessandro Ricciarelli.

Obviously music therapy least in some cases with some people but then not all therapy works all the time in all cases.

I will be posting other blogs on the subject of mental illness and the therapies available to those afflicted.  Just know there is help available.  It may take some time to find it and it may turn out to be a combination of therapy or therapies and/or medication.  There is help but you have to find it. It is up to you to seek it out because it is very unlikely a miracle will knock on your door and say, “May I come in?  I’m the cure for all that ails you.”  If that does happen, don’t let them in.  It won’t be real.

Bob informal 3Bob Aronson of Bob’s Newheart is a 2007 heart transplant recipient, the founder of Facebook’s nearly 3,000 member Organ Transplant Initiative and the author of most of these donation/transplantation blogs.

You may comment in the space provided or email your thoughts to me at And – please spread the word about the immediate need for more organ donors. There is nothing you can do that is of greater importance. If you convince one person to be an organ and tissue donor you may save or positively affect over 60 lives. Some of those lives may be people you know and love.

Please view our music video “Dawn Anita The Gift of Life” on YouTube  This video is free to anyone who wants to use it and no permission is needed.

If you want to spread the word personally about organ donation, we have another PowerPoint slide show for your use free and without permission. JAgain, write to me and ask for “Life Pass It On.”  I will email it to you immediately.  This is NOT a stand-alone show; it needs a presenter but is professionally produced and factually sound.  If you decide to use the show I will  also send you a free copy of my e-book, “How to Get a Standing “O” that will help you with presentation skills. Just write to and I will send the show and book ASAP.

Also…there is more information on this blog site about other donation/transplantation issues. Additionally we would love to have you join our Facebook group, Organ Transplant Initiative  (OTI).  The more members we get the greater our clout with decision makers.

En Espanol

Bob Aronson de Newheart de Bob es un centro receptor de trasplante 2007, el fundador de la Iniciativa de Facebook cerca de 3.000 miembros de trasplantes de órganos y el autor de la mayoría de estos blogs de donación / trasplante.

Usted puede dejar un comentario en el espacio proporcionado o por correo electrónico a sus pensamientos a mí en Y – por favor difundir la palabra acerca de la necesidad inmediata de más donantes de órganos. No hay nada que puedas hacer lo que es de mayor importancia. Si se convence a una persona para ser un donante de órganos y tejidos puede salvar o positivamente afectará a más de 60 vidas. Algunas de esas vidas puede haber gente que conoces y amas.

Por favor, vea nuestro video musical “Dawn Anita The Gift of Life” en YouTube Este video es libre para cualquier persona que quiera usarlo y no se necesita permiso.

Si quieres correr la voz personal sobre la donación de órganos, tenemos otra presentación de PowerPoint para su uso gratuito y sin permiso. JAgain, escribir a mí y pedir “Life Pass It On.” Voy a enviar por correo electrónico a usted inmediatamente Esto no es un espectáculo independiente,. Necesita un presentador, pero es producido profesionalmente y objetivamente sonido Si usted decide utilizar el archivo. demuestro que también le enviará una copia gratuita de mi libro electrónico, “Cómo obtener un Standing” O “que le ayudará con habilidades de presentación. Sólo escribo y enviaré el programa y el libro lo antes posible.

Además … hay más información sobre este sitio de blogs de otros temas de donación / trasplante. Además, nos encantaría que te unas a nuestro grupo de Facebook, la Iniciativa de Trasplante de Órganos (OTI). Cuantos más miembros que tienen la mayor influencia en nuestra toma de decisiones.


About Bob Aronson

Bob Aronson is a former journalist, a Minnesota Governor's Press Secretary and talk show host. For nearly a quarter of a century, he led the Aronson Partnership, a Minnesota-based communications consultancy that prepared corporate and government executives for crisis situations, regulatory testimony, media interviews and Presentations. Among his clients were all three U.S. Mayo Clinic locations, 3M, general Mills, CH2M Hill, the U.S. Department of Energy and scores more. In 2007 bob had a heart transplant after suffering from idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy for 12 years. Shortly after he got his new heart he founded the now 4,300 member Facebook support group, Organ Transplant Initiative. At the same time, he established the Bob's Newheart blog where he has posted nearly 300 columns on organ donation, transplantation and other health related issues. The Viewpoint blog was started in late 2016 and bears the name of the Radio Talk show Bob did from 1966 until 1974, when he resigned to become Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich first Press secretary. Bob and his artist wife Robin, live in Jacksonville, Florida with their two dogs, Reilly and Ziggy. Bob is also a woodworker and makes all of the furnishings for Robin's art festival booth. He also makes one of a kind jewelry or "memories" boxes that he donates to select transplant patients, caregivers, donor families and others who have somehow contributed to making life easier for the ill, the elderly and the less fortunate. Bob is in the final stages of editing two full-length novels that will be available on Kindle when ready for release sometime in early 2017. One is a sci fi novel about an amazing discovery near Roswell, New Mexico and you will be surprised to find it has nothing to do with the Roswell story everyone knows. It features a woman scientist who investigates impact craters for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Dr. Rita Sylvester and her female student intern. The other book is a political thriller that introduces a new hero to the genre, Fargo Dennison.

Posted on August 28, 2013, in Mental health and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: