The student writes song lyrics when she meets with Else, and also learns guitar from the therapist in the process. By discussing the lyrics and other elements of the music that the student generates through improvisation, the client and therapist uncover clues about what is fueling the woman's anxieties.
"We are using music as a mechanism. One, for motivation, but also as a mechanism so she can express herself and we can figure out what are some of these things that are driving her fears," Else said. "We've made a lot of progress."
Having worked through her issues with music, the young woman became more open to going out in public, Else said. She accompanied Else to a rehearsal for an opera, and then to an actual opera performance.
She has now started junior college and is doing well, Else said. The young woman still sees Else for follow-up maintenance.
"Part of that therapeutic process working with her ... was building a high level of trust," Else said. "Developing trust with someone so she could understand that the world isn't quite so scary out there, to get to the root cause."
Music as a lifesaver
Going through music therapy isn't always relaxing, fun or easy.
Cpl. Demi Bullock, 25, a former Marine, experienced post-traumatic stress disorder after her second deployment in Afghanistan. In summer 2011, music therapy was part of her treatment program.
At first, Bullock, who had played the guitar since she was 15, hated music therapy. Her therapist, Rebecca Vaudreuil, would organize activities such as a drum circle, lyric analysis, listening exercises or instrumental playing for service members in the program.
Impatience, and a desire to withdraw from emotion, quickly overtook Bullock. She refused to participate.
"I did not like playing music, having something make me feel that pain and that sadness, that can be completely overwhelming," she said.
Such resistance isn't unusual among returning military, Vaudreuil said. Some people can connect with music more than others, but in some cases it takes time and "soul-searching" for music to become a beneficial part of recovery.
Bullock rediscovered music therapy more than a year after her initial encounter with it. In January, Vaudreuil invited her to join the Semper Sound Band, a musical program through the nonprofit Resounding Joy Inc. that helps service members reintegrate into the community and promotes group cohesion. Vaudreuil was the band director at that time.
The invitation came at a particularly dark moment. Bullock was in the process of getting evicted and continued to struggle with PTSD and depression. She had also recently attempted suicide.
Bullock came to discover that jamming on a guitar, keyboard or drum set helped her cope with stress or intrusive thoughts. The band also provides a social support system and an outlet for self-expression.
"The songs that come out of it, and the process they go through, is so genuine," Vaudreuil said. "The songs are a direct reflection of their emotions, their trials, what they've been through, their experiences, and it's completely cathartic for them."
Bullock continues to play with the band, and works as an intern at Resounding Joy. Her job allows her to be on the facilitator side of music therapy, and connect with other veterans.
"If I hadn't gotten into it (music therapy), I'd literally be dead or still be homeless," Bullock said. "It literally did save my life."
Other therapists are exploring technologies that allow them to see what effect music has on the human body, and use that information to guide clients. This is called biofeedback.