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Therapy through music

Humburg uses music to work with seniors having special needs

By Kevin Mertens - Staff Writer | Jun 13, 2021

Marissa Humburg holds her Reverie harp which she uses in some of her music therapy.

Music therapy may be something many people have never heard of, or at least they are not very familiar with the term. Yet, the earliest known reference to music therapy appeared in 1789 in an article in Columbian Magazine. The first recorded music therapy intervention and systematic experiments in music therapy were conducted in the 1800s.

“Music is a very fluid thing,” Marissa Humburg says. “We can all relate to music on some level.”

Humburg is a certified music therapist who lives east of Blue Earth with her husband Michael and their three children ages two and a half, six and nine.

“What sets music therapy apart from an entertainer is therapists use music to achieve different goals,” Humburg comments. “That is where the science kicks in.”

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. Music therapy also provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words.

It is her love of music and her love of working with people who have special needs that led Humburg to her profession.

Humburg actually began working with adults with mental and/or physical disabilities while she was a student at Mountain Lake High School. After graduating from Mountain Lake in 2002, she went on to get her undergraduate degree in K-12 music education with an emphasis in vocal education from Minnesota State – Mankato. It is also where she met her future husband.

“Michael and I met in an ancient history class,” she shares. “We were married in 2009 and Michael farms with his father.”

Humburg gained more experience while working at the Harry Meyering Center in Mankato from 2003-2011.

“The Harry Meyering Center provides services including housing and 24-hour care for adults with developmental disabilities in order for them to be successful in the community,” Humburg explains. “My position was as a supervisor who oversaw the staff and worked with interviewing and hiring people.”

She received her master’s degree in Music Therapy from Augsburg College in 2017 and now is a board certified music therapist who owns her own business, Southern Minnesota Music Therapy.

“Music allows me to work with various population groups,” she says. “It is a relatable tool.”

Although Humburg works with people of all ages, she says the majority of her work is with older people.

“I work with people who are isolated and depressed, I work with people on hospice care and I work with people suffering from dementia,” she explains. “The first thing I do is an assessment of the person’s strengths and weaknesses. I need to determine how their needs may best be met.”

For people with newly diagnosed or mild dementia she says one of the goals is to help them maintain as much cognitive function as they can.

“We not only work on singing songs they know,” Humburg shares, “we also challenge them by teaching them new songs. Reminiscing is a huge part of the process. The music is used as a springboard to dive into their memories.”

She says the patient’s self-actualization is important.

“They need to know they still have something to give,” she comments. “I let them choose the song or an interest they have. It is part of helping them feel successful.”

The passion Humburg has for her clients and the work she does with them comes through as she continues talking about her job.

“Music has the ability to speak when words cannot. It helps break down barriers,” she says. “Using music, you can unlock the mind.”

Her work with hospice patients has let her witness some heart-touching moments.

“I have seen people who are so withdrawn and appear to be asleep turn their heads or grab a hand,” Humburg shares.

She notes it is not just the hospice patient who can benefit from music therapy.

“It is a difficult situation having someone in hospice care,” Humburg mentions. “Music has the power to decrease the tension and anxiety being experienced by the family.”

Music therapy is more than singing to people and getting them to sing along.

“I get the people involved,” she explains. “I do this by having them play small percussion instruments such as a tambourine or handbells. They work on keeping a rhythm.”

When COVID-19 came around, Humburg, like most people, had to make adjustments in the way she did things.

“I used online videos and provided music people could sing to,” she notes. “The coronavirus also exposed the need to reach people in the rural areas.”

Recognizing the need to reach these people, Humburg applied for and received a grant from the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging.

“This grant allows me to provide my services to residents of Faribault County,” she explains. “Through Interfaith Caregivers and area churches, we were able to identify people in Blue Earth, Winnebago, Wells and Kiester who live alone and are isolated. These are people who are suffering from chronic pain and depression.”

She used the grant to develop an online Music at Home program. The grant has also been used to purchase Grandpads.

“A Grandpad is a simple and secure tablet for seniors,” Humburg says. “It allows seniors to have a connection with loved ones and the outside world.”

She says the program has been successful so far and she is hoping to expand it to other adults living in the community.

While she uses music in her job, music is also a big part of Humburg’s everyday life.

“I enjoy listening to Contemporary Christian music but I appreciate all kinds of music,” she notes.

She also plays guitar and a Reverie harp.

“My husband made the harp,” Humburg shares. “I am able to use both instruments as part of my musical therapy program.”

She says she is happy music therapy is receiving more attention.

“It is a growing field,” Humburg comments. “Music therapy has evidenced-based results and I am happy to be able to help people.”