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"We are working with people using music to help them feel better" Music Therapist Jennifer Buchanan

By Scott Roos

photo courtesy of Jennifer Buchanan

“The easiest way for me to explain (what we do as Music Therapists) is to tell you who we work with and where we go,” states music therapist Jennifer Buchanan.

In her 30 years in the field, as a music therapist, Buchanan, who hails from Calgary, Alberta, has had to adapt to a wide variety of scenarios and circumstances with the goal in the back of her mind of making whoever she is working with feel better. It’s a field that requires generous portions of talent, determination and compassion.

“As music therapists you will see us on the frontlines. We are working in hospitals. We are working on a variety of different units there. So we'll be anywhere from working with someone who's had a brain injury or a stroke. We might be working in palliative care with someone who has been facing cancer for a long time and sitting with them and we also work with really little kids. We're in the NICU in the children’s hospital with really small babies. We will work within the community. We go to a lot of people's community centers where we'll work with people (in different ways)... People come to us as music therapists to help them reach their goals. We are working with people using music to help them feel better,” continues Buchanan.

Buchanan, who owns and operates her own music therapy company called JB Music Therapy, is constantly working very closely with the people in her care to reach those goals which, during a pandemic, you can imagine would present a series of challenges to her and her staff.

“It might surprise you but one of the places we worked in person throughout the entire pandemic was corrections every day. Another place we worked in person almost all the time was ICU but then of course long term care we were almost exclusively not able to go in there. Some places were able to get the ipads and we could do sessions from home and set up home studios. We also purchased a robot during the pandemic that can wheel down the hall so that we can manage in long term care or at the hospitals so we can go into somebody's room that we otherwise couldn't see. So we did that. There were so many different things but you know at one point we were down to 10% capacity of in person work so we slowly increased our virtual life,” explained Buchanan.

Fortunately, adaptability is a trait that music therapists are also used to. They are part of the “menu” when it comes to people they are working with. They learn throughout their careers to pivot on a dime when things aren’t working. The pandemic may have kept them from doing things the way they were accustomed to for a time but the “new normal” certainly didn’t slow the pace down as much as you would expect. And now that restrictions seem to be easing, Buchanan and her staff will pivot again.

“What makes the music therapist quite distinct from other professions within the music field is that we stop things on a dime and move to something else. If something isn't working we shift very very fast and that's important because we always want people to be on the trajectory of feeling better and not getting annoyed,” says Buchanan.

Apart from her work as a music therapist, Buchanan has authored four books including her most recent entitled Wellness, Wellplayed: The Power of a Playlist which came out last September. It’s largely a book that explores the use of playlists, via streaming platforms, for mindfulness, wellness, and mental health benefits. It gives you a history lesson in how people have created playlists in the past on top of scientific data that points to the importance of using playlists for mental well being. It also gives the reader exercises to work on to help them reach their mental health goals through the use of playlists.

“It takes through the history of the cassette and CDs and napster and streaming. It takes you all through that and then it starts introducing you into the concept of why playlists have always meant so much to so many people and it moves into looking at the three areas that I really wanted to focus on which is improved mood, improved motivation and the different playlists we can do in order to reach those specific goals. Most of the exercises included in the book have some scientific evidence behind them to make sure I'm sending you down a fairly good path.” says Buchanan.

The book thus far has received a lot of positive feedback. Unlocking the power of the playlist for mental health and well being is something that many consumers of music have been doing for many years probably without even realizing it. Wellness, Wellplayed, with it’s structured zeroing in on the playlist, presents as a powerful tool for both the casual music fan as well as those of us who have seen the importance of the medium since they were old enough to crawl.

“(People who are casual consumers of music) are reading (the book) and realizing how pervasive music has been in their life but might just not have thought about it in that way before. They're being reminded what their values are and what's important to them and that's just thrilling for me that someone would be looking at (my book) in that way.” adds Buchanan.

More information on Wellness, Wellplayed: The Power of a Playlist can be found at:

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