Opening, Hearts, Minds, and Doors with Creative Arts Therapy

Opening, Hearts, Minds, and Doors with Creative Arts Therapy

Opening, Hearts, Minds, and Doors with Creative Arts Therapy

Seth Laucks, MA, MT-BC, LPC, believes in the healing and connecting power of music. He knows the right song can unlock a door to everything from a treasured memory, to relaxation and pain relief, to overall well-being and happiness. Seth’s passion for music will serve him well in his new role as the Living Branches creative arts therapy coordinator – an extension of the Living  Branches Dementia Care initiative.

“Everyone can name at least one song that sparks a strong emotion, whether it’s a wedding song, a melody associated with a loved one, or even a favorite tune from childhood,” said Seth. “This universal bond with music transcends culture, race, and age. It can help connect us to each other, particularly when traditional communication methods aren’t as possible – a challenge we often face with residents who are living with dementia. Music therapy can greatly enhance those relationships and the level of care we provide for all of our residents, and I’m definitely excited to get started!”

Seth is quickly becoming a familiar face throughout the Living Branches communities. Always armed with a mega-watt smile and most often a musical instrument, Seth’s enthusiasm is contagious, and his fan base is growing in musical leaps and bounds. One of Seth’s biggest fans is Kathleen Roberts, director of dementia care strategy – first introduced to our readers in the fall 2016 edition of “Branching Out.”

As a recap, Kathleen’s primary objective is to seek out best practices in memory care – connecting ideas and experts in the region and beyond – to help residents and families who are living with dementia lead the best lives possible. From the very beginning, Kathleen focused heavily on the power of music therapy. Her own mother, who was a Living Branches resident before she passed, found incredible joy in listening to the big band music she loved – which Kathleen had loaded onto her son’s old iPod.

“Music inspired many positive changes for my mom, her relationships, and her well-being, and in turn, inspired me to think about and explore the many possibilities of using creative arts to bring similar joy to other residents,” said Kathleen.

That creative arts therapy program is now a reality, and Kathleen is grateful for the many experts and resources who have helped her guide this journey – especially Seth, who entered Kathleen’s world and her plans over two years ago at a fun and fateful meeting.

Two Dedicated Caregivers – One Lucky Encounter

Kathleen and Seth first met at a conference hosted by LeadingAge, a non-profit organization  focused on education, advocacy, and applied research in the field of aging services. “There weren’t many sessions on dementia at that conference, but a music therapy session caught my eye,” said Kathleen. “The session was at seven o’clock in the morning in Hershey, so I needed to leave my house at four o’clock to make it on time with the other early birds!”

The pre-dawn drive was well worth the effort, because the early bird session host was Seth, and Kathleen was immediately impressed with his passion, unique experience, and approach to music therapy. She even volunteered to participate in Seth’s sample musical therapy session in

front of the audience. After the session, Kathleen introduced herself to Seth and learned that he was working at a skilled nursing and rehab facility in West Philadelphia through Drexel University, where he was earning his master’s degree in music therapy and counseling.

“Seth was doing cutting-edge work, and in the 18 months he’d been there, he was already making an incredible impact,” said Kathleen. “Given the facility’s limited resources, the success was all the more impressive – and highlighted their team’s commitment to excellent care.”

Over the next two years, Kathleen invited Seth to the Living Branches communities to host music therapy workshops and training sessions. Relationships and learnings grew, and when Kathleen identified an opportunity for Seth to join the team full-time, the timing was just right.

Now that Seth is a full-time member of the Living Branches team, Kathleen sees the creative arts therapy program growing in three distinct ways: resident music therapy sessions with Seth, a new creative arts therapy internship program, and a shared commitment by all Living Branches staff to seek opportunities to incorporate creative arts into many aspects of resident life.

“Each of these paths offers a range of both short- and long- term possibilities to enhance care, improve lives, and bring people together,” said Kathleen. “We’re still early in the process, but with Seth on the team, we’ve already made excellent progress in all three growth areas!”

Sessions with Seth: A Ray of Musical Light

As an important early step, Seth, Kathleen, and other members of the Living Branches care  team are working together to identify the residents with physical or mental challenges who will most benefit from music therapy sessions.

“For these residents, music therapy can be another influential tool in how we can address and tailor care to their special needs – as a complement to the physical and medical care they are already receiving,” said Seth.

Seth is quick to point out that in his music therapy sessions, he doesn’t jump right to playing the guitar or singing a song. “The first action I take is to make sure a resident’s basic needs are being met,” said Seth. “For example, are they physically comfortable? Is there anything I can do to make them feel more comfortable? Then, my next step is helping the resident get comfortable with me! The time we take to get to know each other not only helps the resident feel safe, but also allows me to chart out the actual approach. And with every person, it’s always different!”

Seth gathers as much information as he can about a person’s musical background. Did they sing in a church group? Did they ever play an instrument? What’s their favorite kind of music? Even personal history beyond music can make an impact. For example, if a resident was once a farmer, Seth might use songs about farming to build interest and connection.

“Sessions vary as much as the individuals do,” said Seth. “Sometimes we play music together. Other times, we might listen to a particular song and move to the beat. Or, we may even write a song about the person’s life experiences, whether it’s grieving a loved one or reflecting upon a happy memory from childhood.”

Seth has an arsenal of musical instruments – most of which do not require any expertise to play and are pre-tuned to set up the resident for instant success. Seth notes that participants are often shy at first, but once they realize the active role they can play in music-making, they soonbecome playful and joyful, as well as willing to try out new activities.

“One of my favorite music therapy memories is a session with a blind woman who was in  hospice care,” said Seth. “At the start of the session, I had opened the curtains so she could feel the sunshine on her face – which made her smile. Then, we sang “You are the Sunshine of my Life” together. Even though this woman was very limited in her physical movements, she could still use hand bells to play along with the music, and she could even dance “The Twist” from her bed – a favorite activity from her youth. It was a beautiful thing to see her seek joy in those moments, even as she approached the end of her life.”

Seth’s ability to draw individuals out – through dialogue, relationship building, and ultimately music – as well as his custom, person-centered approach, has enabled him to make a difference for many people who were struggling to find some light.

“Another woman I worked with was suffering from severe depression. Her body was failing, and she had recently lost her husband,” said Seth. “Faith had always been a big part of her life, so we worked together on one of her favorite hymns – rewriting the lyrics to tell the story of her own struggles. Eventually, she performed this song in front of hundreds of people at a Christmas concert. The writing process, the practice time, and her brave performance represented a huge triumph for her. After that experience, she told me that she again felt at peace – and she knew that God had a plan for her life.”

Successes such as this one serve as Seth’s daily inspiration – and will help guide him every step of the way at Living Branches.

The Creative Arts Therapy Internship – More Hands, More Hearts, More Possibilities

The new internship program is designed to be a win-win-win – for the Living Branches community, for the students, and for the advancement of dementia care as a whole. Seth has already identified several students who will join Living Branches in the fall.

“Each intern and co-op will bring diverse musical and therapeutic skills to our community,” said Seth. “Their unique experiences and studies will keep the program fresh with innovative ideas – and of course, will enable our team to support even more residents and offer a range of new activities.”

Not only will the students receive the practical experience they need to become certified in their field, they’ll also receive real-world, hands-on experience, so that they can put what they’ve learned in a classroom setting to practical use.

“Intergenerational contact never fails to breathe fresh life into all that we do,” said Kathleen. “In addition, our interns will discover much about the special world of senior care. Most creative therapy students envision working with children or young adults, but through this partnership, we can open their eyes to how wonderful it is to work with older individuals as well! The work is deeply rewarding – and we want the next generation to understand that they are much needed in our shared effort to enhance senior care in all communities.”

Open Door – Open Dialogue

When you hear Seth talk about his vision for the creative arts therapy program, the word that pops up the most is collaboration. And one only need be in Seth’s presence for a few minutes to learn that he isn’t shy – especially when it comes to learning more about the community’s needs and potential ideas. As a matter of fact, Seth has spent much of his early time in his new role touring every level of care to start a dialogue with team members across the Living Branches communities.

The team has been very open to sharing their feedback about creative arts therapy, which is already so much a part of the Living Branches culture,” said Seth. “A quick glance at our monthly calendar illustrates the broad range of creative enrichment opportunities, from musical performances to art activities. I see myself as a stimulus for pushing even further and encouraging the team to think outside the box about ways they can incorporate the arts into daily activities. Then, Kathleen and I can work together to help find the resources needed to make those ideas a reality.”

With Kathleen and Seth leading the creative arts therapy charge, exciting visions are sure to  continue transforming into incredible realities. In addition to the work they will do at Living Branches, Kathleen and Seth plan to continue partnering with other organizations and universities to boost learning, collaboration, and success.

“Our ultimate vision is for Living Branches to serve as a model and a resource for other communities like ours – particularly in the world of dementia care, where creative arts therapy is playing a growing role,” said Kathleen. “Right now, we are building a solid foundation, and today’s success stories will pave the road toward others.”

“In the meantime, the opportunity to open residents’ eyes to the healing power of music is a true gift – just as Seth himself has been a gift to our community,” added Kathleen. “He’s got our toes tapping, our minds open, and our hopes high – and we look forward to seeing our collaborative symphony inspire all members of the Living Branches family.”

Frequently Asked Questions

How does music therapy improve memory?

Music therapy connects individuals with dementia to memories associated with music, and uses the compassionate skilled support of a therapeutic relationship to help these individual to process any emotional reactions (positive or negative) which may be activated by these memories.

Is music good for dementia patients?

Music can help dementia patients connect to memories, emotions, and those around them in their communities, including loved-ones, neighbors, and caregivers. It’s important to know each patient’s musical preferences, because preferred music is often effective in connecting to dementia patients.  Music can bring up emotions (positive and negative) and it is important to be prepared to support the patient through this emotional journey.

Living Branches is a non-profit system of senior living and affordable housing communities with campuses in Hatfield, Souderton, and Lansdale. Contact one of our sales counselors to see which campus is right for you.