Music has great emotional, spiritual, and physiological effects on human beings. “Music stimulates both hemispheres of the brain,” leaving no area untouched, the affects of which Meryl Lammers has seen over the past eleven years. Lammers, a board-certified music therapist, utilizes “music intervention to accomplish specific therapeutic goals.” Lammers is the sole proprietor of Sound Sanctuary Healing Arts, providing music therapy to the greater Philadelphia area. Sessions for individuals, groups, and treatment facilities for addiction, Alzheimer’s, and special needs populations are among her clients. Her goals vary based on the population.
Music sends electrical impulses to all areas of the brain, including the underdeveloped. She has seen growth in the area of communication in her patients who are on the autism spectrum. “A lot of the kids that I work with are non-verbal, but they love music,” says Lammers. In this case, playing music and singing stimulates the speech center of the brain. “Some of these kids can sing, even though they can’t speak, and they learn how to talk.” They begin to communicate by choosing album covers and pictures that Lammers has associated with certain songs. This is how they tell Lammers what song they want to sing with her. Overtime, they begin to use one or two words conversationally to communicate their wants and needs.
One of her patients, who is 23 but considered mentally a child, “said ‘hi’ to her dad. For the first time, she said ‘dad.’” Lammers recounts this with genuine joy. The girl also makes eye contact and smiles, behavioral traits that are usually rare, and her family will sometimes attend the sessions as well. “They interact with each other in a way that they wouldn’t be interacting with each other if music wasn’t involved,” says Lammers.
“I always knew that I wanted to help people in some way,” but Lammers originally didn’t anticipate that this would involve her musical ability. She studied music performance and composition at SUNY New Paltz in upstate New York, then dropped out for two years, unsure of what direction to take. Upon her return to college, her compassion and her musical prowess would meet. It was, “one of those serendipitous moments where they had placed me in the orientation group with music therapy students instead of regular music students.” After receiving her board-certification, Lammers worked in Florida and North Carolina, before settling in Pennsylvania.
The music therapy session takes shape based around the patients needs and musical preference. For substance abuse therapy, Lammers uses guided imagery and live music with muscle relaxation techniques. In this meditation, patients speak to their childhood self and affirm the trauma that they have suffered. This unblocks the suppressed emotions that substances allowed them to push away. Lammers also uses various song writing techniques, having her patients write poems that she puts to music or having them work together to create a piece as a group. By creating something, “the goal is that they feel a sense of self esteem, that they’ve accomplished something,” feelings that addiction often takes away.
Lammers also took part in A Peaceful Time for the Healing Warrior, a mindfulness session for military veterans in North Carolina. Held in the Ashville V.A. Medical Center, the session was started by Jude Toy and Cindy Kirkland, who practice meditation and yoga. The program was specifically developed for veterans with substance abuse issues, but was soon opened up to all veterans. Through reflexology, relaxation techniques, and music therapy the veterans were astonished by their own ability to open up to each other about the trauma that they experienced in war. “Music has a way of creating an immediate bond because it’s such a universal language,” says Lammers. One of the center’s staff members wanted to work with her to develop a music therapy program, but the government froze V.A. funds soon after her last visit four years ago. Lammers feels that the need for support for veterans is great and hopes to start a music therapy program for them sometime in the future.
While Lammers is passionate about each population that she serves, hospice care stands out. When she was fourteen her grandfather passed away. “He was like the pillar of our family,” and as he was losing his battle with cancer the family began to break down. “I just remember that the hospice nurse was the calm in the chaos of the storm and that stuck with me.” In college, one of her professors educated the class extensively on hospice care and helped Lammers find an internship. After graduation, Lammers worked at Seasons Hospice in King of Prussia, and Heartland Hospice in Chaddsford before starting her own practice.
Treatment is a messy process and varies in each case. Testimonials for Sound Sanctuary Healing Arts point to Lammer’s work as the calm in the storm of her patients lives, with music leading them out of them out of the chaos.