There are a lot of very interesting people in the St. Louis Metro. Over the past two years, we’ve been able to connect with some of them and highlight their stories in the LocalFlavorSTL blog.
Being a musician and Social Media Specialist makes life interesting because I’m able to criss-cross worlds and the outcome often results in great friendships being developed. That’s exactly what happened two years ago when I needed a guitar player/vocalist to play a show with me. A mutual friend of ours recommended Andrew Dwiggins, and he was a perfect fit after our first rehearsal.
I was impressed not only with Andrew’s musical ability, but also when I found out that he is a board-certified Music Therapist at the Saint Louis University Cancer Center. I love the bridge between music and science and thought this would be an awesome story to share and hopefully inspire others. Check out our discussion about his career below.
Kenny: What’s a Music Therapist?
Andrew: A Music Therapist can be a lot of things, depending on the setting. Broadly speaking, a Music Therapist is someone who uses the properties of music to achieve non-musical goals. Music Therapy can be used to help relax and decrease anxiety, to teach lessons embedded in songs and rhythms, to rehabilitate physical function like gait-training or to regain speech function, as well as address many psycho, social and emotional goals. “Music Therapists”: http://www.musictherapy.org/careers/ctindex/ work in hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, hospice agencies, dementia care/extended care facilities, and various psych facilities.
Kenny: Andrew, what exactly do you do as a Music Therapist?
Andrew: My job at the Saint Louis University Cancer Center is to assist in patient pain management. There are all types of pain: physical, emotional, psycho/social, etc. Music Therapy helps patients in a number of ways here by helping them relax. Music is an incredible catalyst for relationship building, which is a crucial element for successful therapy. My goal is to create a therapeutic relationship with a patient, and use music to address any issues they may have. I’m not there to replace medicinal or surgical interventions of conventional doctors. Instead, I’m there to enhance the patients’ well-being while the staff cares for their medical needs. I normally do sessions in patient’s hospital rooms, but can also go to out-patient clinics, or record therapeutic music for patients receiving radiology treatments.
Kenny: What do you love about your work?
Andrew: I have a deep love for all kinds of people. Hearing stories from their lives and what is meaningful to them gives me an enormous sense of purpose. Letting them know I care by listening to them, talking with them about what’s important, and learning their favorite music is an absolutely humbling and beautiful experience. Helping people with the talents I’ve been given and connecting with them on a personal level makes me feel very blessed to do this work.
Kenny: Can you share a specific story of one of your patients who received a “breakthrough” or was positively affected by your session?
Andrew: I was providing music therapy for a distressed patient in the ICU. He was breathing with the assistance of a respirator, nonverbal, and showing a lot of restless movement. His hands were covered with gloves that restricted him from pulling his IV, breathing tube, or feeding tube out, and his face was often grimaced in pain.
While playing selections of soothing music for the man, I remembered him mentioning a song he loved to “crank up” while he was riding his motorcycle. “Maybe this will help him” I thought.
His eyes and head darted about the room, and his erratic heart rate would slow and race as I started his song. When I reached the first chorus, I noticed the man pause, look straight at me, and smile. It was the first time in the session he’d made eye contact, and his restless movement decreased significantly after that. Recognizing his favorite song helped him break through the madness of discomfort he was suffering from. While it did not cure his disease, it put his mind and heart at ease for a time. He was able to relax and enjoy the music, instead of focus on his pain.
Kenny: Powerful story! Thank you for sharing that with us.
Andrew: You’re welcome.
Andrew uses his gift of music and love for people to make the world a better place, one patient at a time. We all have special gifts and unique personalities that can be used to impact those around us.
In what ways are you using your gifts and talents to reach others?