If you are like me, you have very little knowledge of music therapy. I had heard the term circulating for a while, but had never explored it more before. There have been many studies on the positive correlations between listening to music and brain health, and after speaking with music therapist Kyle Fleming, it became clear that music therapy is something that should be available to everyone.
Kyle Fleming is a certified music therapist and founder of Fleming Music Therapy in Champaign-Urbana. I had the opportunity to sit down on Zoom with Fleming to discuss all things music therapy and how anyone from any background can benefit from it.
Smile politely: can you tell me a bit about yourself? Are you from the region? Do you play music? How did you get into music therapy?
Kyle Fleming: I was born and raised in southwest Minnesota. I have always been very involved in music when I was a child. I was in the band, choir, and orchestra from middle school to high school, and I was really involved in this stuff. When I started to think about what I wanted to do for a career, I knew I wanted something that had to do with music. My mom was a social worker, so I knew I wanted to do something about social work. I just learned music therapy during my first year of high school. I had the opportunity to observe a music therapist who worked in a memory care unit in South Dakota about an hour away. So I followed her, I really enjoyed seeing it in action, and I kind of decided at that point that this was something I wanted to do.
SP: It’s great that you learned music therapy in high school. One of the reasons I wanted to chat with you is that I feel like music therapy is still a gray area for myself, and quite possibly others as well. I think people hear the idea of music therapy and think, okay, I can listen to music at home and work on it myself. Is there a scientific difference between playing music, listening to music and receiving music therapy?
Flemish: One of my favorite things about music therapy is that it depends on how you use the music. You can get great results especially in mental health and addiction treatment by listening to music and talking about it, and exploring artist and exploring music. I really like improvising and playing music with people, making music together just to promote that self-expression. But there are also so many different ways to engage in music. There is an approach called guided imagery and music, which is like a musical exploration of your psyche: you listen to instrumental music and talk about what you are feeling and what kind of thoughts or sensations arise while listening. You can also do it with music and art by having music playing in the background and associating freely with crayons, markers or crayons. You just hear something in the music, it makes you think or feel something and then talk through it and really dig under the layers.
SP: What if I’m not a musician? Can I still participate in music therapy? Who can benefit from it?
Flemish: Absoutely. I use a resource-based or strength-based approach, so anyone who comes to work with me doesn’t have to be a musician. I go through our assessment, determine what you like, what you can do, and then adapt our interventions and approaches to match those strengths. So if you can keep a steady beat, we could do a lot of percussion. Or if you prefer to just listen to music, we can also do a lot of musical exploration like that.
Music therapy is considered a “cradle-to-grave” approach to treatment because it can be effective from infancy to end-of-life care. I focus specifically on mental health because I’ve found music to be a great way to connect with thoughts and emotions and create a space where we can talk about these things without judgment.
SP: Currently, you work mainly with children and adolescents. Is it correct?
Flemish: Yes. I mainly did community events and guest lectures. I am therefore ramping up to be able to take charge of private clients soon, hoping to focus on children and adolescents. I also have a meeting soon with a local hospice hospice agency and would like to offer support groups related to emotional wellness needs like bereavement.
SP: I know it mainly depends on each client, but how does the therapy method change from children to adults or people in hospice?
Flemish: My goal is to connect with people, to have that relationship. If I work with a trauma-informed lens, it’s about that relationship and having that stable connection, and I think that spans the entire lifespan. Having a secure connection with a child is no different than someone who is 80 years old. No different from a young adult in a hospital setting. Once you have that connection, you can create that space where it’s okay to be vulnerable and explore. And it looks different depending on the age group, but I think having that connection and building that community is so crucial and so important. Music is a great way to do this.
SP: When can we see a music therapist compared to a traditional therapist?
Flemish: I think what music therapy does well – and I’ll even include other creative arts therapies, like art therapy or drama therapy – I think what they do well is that they engage different aspects of the brain and exploit different ways of communicating and expressing themselves. I know that in my personal therapy I speak very well with people. So I tend to see a traditional therapist because that’s how I do it and that’s how I do things. But if someone feels like they’re stuck with it – they just tend to say the same things over and over and over and over and nothing really progresses – sometimes it helps to have that way of thinking and a way of thinking. different expression.
One thing I have learned from trying to build a fair and anti-oppressive practice is that for many people of color there is a lot of stigma about going to therapy, because often times, “going to therapy” meant “to assimilate to whiteness”. In my practice from a humanistic perspective, I tend not to place a lot of weight on diagnoses and focus more on the issues my clients bring to me, and we work together on how best to resolve those issues. This is why one of my general missions with Fleming Music Therapy is to bring mental and emotional well-being and healing to communities and people who are often overlooked or actively harmed by therapy and the therapeutic process.
SP: I think that’s a good point. I think there are people who feel a certain way, but they don’t know why they feel a certain way or how to express it. They might not have the words for it, but the music could express it that way for them to some extent. What do you think is the worst or most difficult part of being a music therapist?
Flemish: This is going to sound like a back door answer, but I think one of the worst parts of being a music therapist is that sometimes things are just so magical. That they only work at that precise moment when you want to recreate it. One of the stories I always tell when I worked at Cunningham Children’s Home is that we had a child who was so, so abused and manipulated by his parents. He just refused to talk about it, refusing to do anything about it. So I brought this song. It’s called “Two Forms of Anger” by Brian Eno. It was supposed to be a loose, relaxed association thing, like listening to music, writing, drawing pictures, whatever. As soon as the music started he wrote a two-page, two-sided letter to his mother over and over again, just detailing all the ways she had hurt and abused him and messed him up and said, “I don’t trust you anymore, I want nothing to do with you. It was just such a cathartic thing for him. It was like, “Oh, that can work with everyone.” So sometimes I want to find that magic again. I just have to trust the gender process, it’s gonna happen when it gonna happen.
SP: What’s the best part about being a music therapist?
Flemish: I think the best part is seeing people reconnect with different aspects of themselves. And above all there are so many people you talk to, who say, “Oh, I used to play the piano when I was a kid and now I don’t do it anymore”, or “I was in a group, and then I had to stop. “Music was important enough at one point in their lives that they carried it on like this. So one thing that I think is really satisfying in music therapy is to see that reconnection, to see people discovering something that ‘they maybe lost or maybe they were trying to cover themselves and stay put down. Then just see the growth of that too. But this young man, just seeing how he got through anger and everything bottling up to express yourself and encourage others … – being able to be a part of this transformation was so meaningful to me, and it always gives me goosebumps every time we talk about it.
SP: I know you have a promotion coming up, do you want to talk about it?
Flemish: Currently, I am offering a promotion for frontline healthcare workers to receive a free music therapy session and, if they choose to continue with the services, half-price sessions until the end of 2022. This can be individual or in a small group. people who want to meet, and just do a support group like that, I’m more than happy to do that.
I am also happy to do information sessions and trainings. So if there are other mental health professionals or community groups in town who want to learn more about music therapy. I am totally open to this.
In addition to my offering for frontline healthcare workers and speaking / training opportunities, I offer equity-based pricing to people from historically marginalized identities. More information on this can be found on my website, but in short, people are free to take advantage of discounted rates if they identify as a person of color, a member of the LGBTQ + community, a disabled, a low income / low-resource person, or other marginalized identity. If they feel comfortable revealing it when they contact us, we can work out a pricing structure and payment plan that works best for them.
SP: Where can people find out more about you or follow you?
Flemish: You can go to my site. I’m also on pretty much every social network under the same name. You can contact me through any of these, fill out the form on my website, or email me. I am more than happy to chat.
To learn more about music therapy and Fleming music therapy, visit Kyle’s website, Facebook, Instagram or TikTok.