Podcast | Episode 14: Music Therapy with Danielle Porter and AJ Denne

Clinical Expertise

Mar 1, 2021

Medical Reviewers: Danielle Porter, MM, MT-BC; AJ Denne MM, MT-BC
Last Updated: April 30, 2021

Welcome to the Brooks Rehabilitation podcast where we talk to our rehabilitation professionals to shed light on the stellar programs and services we offer to help our patients reach their highest levels of recovery.

We were joined by two of our Music Therapists, Danielle Porter and AJ Denne to discuss the major impact music therapy has on our patients.

Send us an email with your questions, comments or podcast ideas to podcast@brooksrehab.org!

Listen to the full episode on your favorite podcast app! Search ‘Brooks Rehabilitation Podcast.’ You can also listen online. Below is a transcript of our newest episode.

*This podcast was recorded in March 2021.

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Podcast Transcript

Tracy Davis: Welcome to the Brooks Rehabilitation podcast. My name is Tracy Davis. On this episode, we have our music therapists at Brooks, AJ Denne and Danielle Porter. I think you’re really going to enjoy this episode. I learned a lot more than I already knew about music therapy, and I think it’s a really amazing thing what they are doing for our patients by bringing in music. And I think, if you don’t know anything about this, it’s a lot different than what you think. And they do a really good job of explaining exactly what it is that they do and how they really impact patient’s lives.

Before we get into the rest of the episode, make sure you check us out on social media, just look for @brooksrehab on any of the platforms. And make sure you go to brooksrehab.org to learn all about our system. Everything that we have going on is there. All the latest information is on our news section in our blog. So make sure you go to brooksrehab.org. And with that, thank you for listening and we’re going to get right into the episode.

Thanks guys for coming on the podcast. You guys want to start off by introducing yourself?

Danielle Porter: Sure. I’m Danielle Porter and I’m a neurologic music therapist and I’ve been working at Brooks since May of 2015, and love it here. Working my dream job, and couldn’t ask for anything more.

Tracy Davis: Great.

AJ Denne: My name is AJ Denne. I’m a board certified music therapist and I have been working at Brooks since January of 2020.

Tracy Davis: Oh, wow. So it’s already been a year.

AJ Denne: Yeah, yeah.

Tracy Davis: You picked a great year to start.

AJ Denne: Right. I slid right in there, right before the pandemic hit.

Tracy Davis: Yeah. So before we go on with the rest, tell us what music therapy is. I know whenever I first heard about what music therapy, I thought you guys were teaching patients how to play instruments. That was where my mind went immediately. And then I learned obviously more about what you guys do, and how you integrate music into their therapy. So just tell everybody what music therapy is.

AJ Denne: A lot of people have that mind, or have also gotten the, you hold a boombox on your shoulder and play music.

Tracy Davis: Walk through the halls, yeah.

AJ Denne: Right. Music therapy is a very unique therapy. We use music to reach non-musical goals. So what I mean by that is instead of a physical therapist or in addition to a physical therapist, having someone reach forward 50 times or 100 times, or however many times, the music therapists will come in and will put that our movement to a beat. Right? So the goal is for the patient to reach a bunch of times. However, we use music as the modality and that’s kind of what our education back us to do.

Tracy Davis: Okay. Wow. That’s really interesting. We’re going to get into a little bit about how you guys got here and stuff like that too. But how do the therapists, do they contact you and say, “I have a patient that would work really well with music therapy” or how do you guys integrate in with the other clinicians and choose that?

AJ Denne: Yeah. We have a referral system that we use, and Danielle has worked very hard and myself have worked very hard on educating the therapists on not only what we do, but how to access us and how to properly assess their patients to see if they would be appropriate for music therapy, and they’ve been very wonderful.

Tracy Davis: Because you guys go all over our whole system.

AJ Denne: Yes.

Tracy Davis: You’re not just in one specific place.

Danielle Porter: Yeah. So I’m based in the inpatient hospital for three days a week. And then on my fourth day, I’m at some of our day treatment facilities, so the neuro day recovery program and then the brain injury clubhouse and the Brooks Aphasia Center. And then AJ, she’s in more places than I am. She flits around. I’ll let her elaborate on that.

AJ Denne: Yes. I’m in inpatient one day a week, usually the last day of the week. But yeah, I do the Brooks assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. I also work with the pediatric adaptive recreation program and I’m in some of the schools. Also Parkinson’s choir, we have a Parkinson’s choir and a children’s choir. And I also work at the aphasia center and I think that’s it.

Tracy Davis: So you have it scheduled out each week as to where you’re going to be.

AJ Denne: Yeah, it’s each day. So Mondays I’m in X location, Tuesdays I’m.

Tracy Davis: Yeah. So you know, exactly. I have more questions, but let’s back up and talk about how you guys got to this place. So first, did you guys meet through the hiring to come here or did you guys know each other before that?

Danielle Porter: No, we didn’t know each other before this. But AJ was my intern, my student intern, back in 2019.

Tracy Davis: Okay.

Danielle Porter: So she got the opportunity to get her feet wet here at the inpatient hospital and some of those other day treatment places I mentioned earlier and she was a wonderful, wonderful student. And so when I got the approval for the new music therapy position, she immediately came to mind. And so I was so grateful that she applied, because I said, “Oh, I know that she just thrived here.” So it’s wonderful. It’s a wonderful to have her back.

Tracy Davis: That’s great.

AJ Denne: Yeah. I’m happy to be back.

Danielle Porter: And have her back as a colleague too.

Tracy Davis: Yeah.

AJ Denne: Danielle’s not tired of me yet.

Tracy Davis: I only ask that because I know that the music therapy world’s probably small. So I didn’t know if maybe you had met somewhere before. So tell me about what got you to want to even go to school for this? Did you start college and then figure this out or did you go in knowing this is what you wanted to do?

Danielle Porter: Well for me, I knew I wanted to be a music therapist when I was a, I think, a junior in high school.

Tracy Davis: Okay.

Danielle Porter: I was trying to figure things out and clarinet is my primary instrument, although I don’t use it here at the hospital.

Tracy Davis: Yeah, I was about to say I don’t think I’ve ever seen you use a clarinet.

Danielle Porter: Nobody wants to hear that and I don’t blame them. But when I was in high school, I said, “I’m not cut out for performance,” but I really had a passion for helping people. And I spent a lot of time around my grandparents growing up. And so I said, “How can I kind of fuse this love for music and this passion for helping others?” And I went to band camp at Florida State University that summer in high school and they had an info session about music therapy. And my jaw just dropped. I was like, “This is it. This is what I’ve been looking for.” So that’s where I first learned about it. And as soon as I got home, that whole next year I spent the rest of that summer shadowing local music therapists, trying to decide is this really what I want to do? And I was just in love. I was smitten. And so ended up at Florida State University studying in that program and got my bachelor’s there and also my master’s with an emphasis in gerontology.

Tracy Davis: Okay. What about you?

AJ Denne: I took the complicated route. But as far as I’ve known I wanted to do music therapy since eighth grade.

Tracy Davis: Wow.

AJ Denne: Yeah. My band director at our school, you could join marching band in eighth grade and our band director would hand select some people to go to the school for the blind and deaf where his daughter resided at the time.

Tracy Davis: In St. Augustine?

AJ Denne: No, I’m from Pittsburgh.

Tracy Davis: Pittsburgh. Okay, sorry.

AJ Denne: So it was yeah, the Pittsburgh school. And she has since passed away, but she resided there and I later found out that when we were brought there, it was for their music therapists had hooked them up with it. I saw the reaction that the kids had to it and they got to play symbols with us and march in our little marching band lines and conduct the band. And they were just so, so, so happy. I’ve never seen a kid so happy to crash a symbol. But later, my dad was actually involved in a drinking and driving accident and he has also since passed away.

But while he was in the inpatient rehab facility, they had a music therapist there and I never got to see the music therapist, but I could always tell that he was more alert when the music therapist had come to see him. He would be able to squeeze our hand and do a little extra movement and interact with us a little bit more. So I was like, “Well, this must be it. This is what I was meant to do.” And I think I really thrive in inpatient because I was a family member, I was on the other side of this. So it’s interesting to be able to have both perspectives of the therapist and also family member that was.

Tracy Davis: So many of the clinicians that I’ve talked to on the podcast and office, they’ve had some sort of a family something happened that they saw someone taking care of their family member and it made them want to do the same thing for people. So that’s very interesting. Wow. Okay, I just have a lot of questions running around in my head.

AJ Denne: They are a lot.

Tracy Davis: So let’s get in a little bit deeper about to help people understand what it is that you guys do. Maybe you can use a specific patient diagnosis or something like that. And then what would you do with that patient? So kind of a little more nitty gritty, what do you do?

Danielle Porter: So I think it would be helpful if we highlighted maybe a patient or a client from each of the settings that we work in because we really do cater the techniques we use towards what the patient’s needs are. So in the inpatient hospital and really throughout the Brooks system of care, we utilize neurologic music therapy and that’s an additional training that music therapists can get after they sit for their board examinations and finish their bachelors. But with neurologic music therapy, we manipulate elements of music to cause or stimulate changes in brain and behavior functioning. And so with neurologic music therapy, we have 20 protocols that are based in neuroscience research. And we use those protocols to address cognition, speech and language and movement. And we use those NMT techniques regardless of what population we’re in. But I would say we use the majority of those techniques here at the inpatient hospital.

So I’ll do a language example. So if we are seeing a patient who has been referred by their speech therapist for verbal expression, because maybe they’ve had a stroke that’s affected their left side of their brain where most of a language is processed. We’ll use a technique where we have a lyric completion. So we’ll use a familiar song and we’ll sing a little bit of that song and then leave out the last word of the phrase, which the anticipation of the melody and the familiarity of the song kind of prompts them to elicit that automatic speech.

Tracy Davis: So trying to turn that part of the brain back on.

Danielle Porter: Exactly. So all of the techniques that we use are really to engage the brain and create new connections or potentially repair old connections in the brain.

Tracy Davis: Right. I’m glad that you explain it like that because I want people to understand that this isn’t just like some feel good, happy thing that we do for our patients. This is an actual piece of therapy. That’s why it’s called music therapy.

Danielle Porter: Yeah.

Tracy Davis: So it’s actually something being used to help treat our patients. So what other examples would you have? I know you guys work with kids too, with peds.

AJ Denne: Yes. I work with the pediatric adaptive recreation and I use a wide variety of the techniques as well. They may look a little different than what they look like at inpatient because they are children. So we have different attention spans when we get down to those ages.

Tracy Davis: Yeah.

AJ Denne: But yeah, I try to use activities that help them increase their social interaction skills, their appropriate greetings, right, hello songs, goodbye songs, motor movements. I have songs where we call them big movements and little movements, is your fine motor, whereas big movements are the gross motor skills. So I do it in a way that’s covering off that, where we’re working on these things that they may not want to work on if you told them that they were working on it. But able to call it, someone referred to it as ninja therapy.

Tracy Davis: They don’t know they’re being therapied.

AJ Denne: Yeah. For little kids.

Danielle Porter: We’re pretty cheesy around here, at least I am. And I like to say we put the fun in functional. And so sometimes when music therapy, I think, what AJ is probably getting at is we can disguise the work of therapy when we’re using fun and salient music that patients enjoy, or just interesting and unique instruments. So music is a distraction and it’s a distraction for anybody. A lot of people listen to music when they go to the gym or when they’re feeling stressed out. And so we’re just tapping into it in a little bit more specific way.

Tracy Davis: Okay. Yeah. So sorry to Tarantino this conversation where I go jumping forth in the timeline. So back in school, what kind of levels, what are they giving you as far as the knowledge of not just obviously not just learning music, but you’re learning how to utilize music with each individual patient? So how much of the human body are you learning about and how what you’re doing stimulates the brain? I’m just very curious about what you actually are learning.

AJ Denne: Yeah. Well I told you before, I’m going to jump around too. I told you before I took the long way. So my undergraduate is not in music therapy. I have a BA in psychology, a BS in music and a certificate in sign language.

Tracy Davis: Okay.

AJ Denne: So I then went to our equivalency program at Florida State, which is for people like me, who don’t have the background in music therapy. But they do teach a lot of the psychology, the why behind human behavior. And they do have to take an anatomy class, well we I guess, have to take an anatomy class just to learn a lot of the basics of body mechanics and how things work and the different parts of your brain and why you do the things that you do. So we’re combining a lot of different types of majors into what we do, because it’s a lot. We can help with a lot of different parts of your body and different parts of your brain. So we have to be educated on it.

Tracy Davis: Yeah. Everyone knows that music is something that stimulates our brains in ways that a lot of other things don’t. So are they teaching you a lot of stuff, is it, I’m using the wrong words, like psychology of music and stuff like that?

Danielle Porter: Yeah.

AJ Denne: Yeah. We actually have a class called psych of music.

Tracy Davis: There you go. See, I’m smarter than I thought.

AJ Denne: Yeah. I always like to tell people, this is my fun music fact, music is one of the only things that can stimulate both sides of your brain at the same exact time.

Tracy Davis: Wow.

Danielle Porter: In multiple regions.

AJ Denne: Yeah, in multiple regions.

Tracy Davis: I’m thinking of whenever I listen to music that I like, like when I go to the gym, I have certain music albums that I like to listen to because it does something to not just your mood and your motivation, but physically you feel like maybe certain songs make you feel like you can do more and do better things. And then there’s songs that make you feel sad. And so really, that’s very true. I hadn’t thought about it like that. It’s like music really can just trigger emotion and that’s got to be using all of the brain.

Danielle Porter: Most definitely.

AJ Denne: Also, if you want to go back to an example of using it out in the field, I work with people who have dementia and Alzheimer’s, late stage, and a lot of music for them, it’s very interesting with that population because when a memory is associated with music, it’s actually stored in a different part of the brain than just a regular memory.

Tracy Davis: Right. Like maybe a different place that is still there.

AJ Denne: It’s still accessible.

Tracy Davis: In a dementia patient, they just haven’t accessed it in a while and you’re bringing that out.

AJ Denne: Yeah. So if I play a song and they say, “Oh, my grandma used to sing that to me or my mom used to sing that to me,” that memory of their mom or grandma singing it to them is in a completely different part of the brain then.

Tracy Davis: Wow. And who knows what that memory can trigger?

Danielle Porter: Well, yeah. It’s a springboard. It’s a complete springboard because we end up devising groups based off of themes. If we’re going to say, “Okay, we’re going to sing about tonight’s a full moon, we’re going to sing all songs related to the moon.” And then that patient says, “Oh, I remember when I saw this full moon back in 1925” or whatever, and then it may remind them of who they were with and what else was in their environment, where they were living.

Tracy Davis: The smell of the beach that day.

Danielle Porter: Exactly. Everything is tied together. Music is such a intertwined part of our daily lives, more so than we even realize.

Tracy Davis: Sure. I can definitely hear songs sometimes, like that Smash Mouth All Star song. That was right when I was becoming a teenager, I was somewhere around 13 years old or whatever. And I remember exactly where I was whenever I first heard that song. And while I was like in summer school or something and in middle school or something, and the friends that I had with me in the classroom, whenever we were all singing that song and stuff like that. So that is very true. I hadn’t thought about that. Music is a really powerful thing.

Danielle Porter: Yeah. The research shows that when we’re listening to music during our more formative years, so like you’re saying, preteen to early twenties, that’s the music that’s going to stick with us for the rest of our lives. So unfortunately for me, some of that’s going to be like NSYNC and Backstreet Boys. So that’s unfortunate.

Tracy Davis: The best of music.

AJ Denne: Unfortunate? We’re singing them this morning.

Danielle Porter: However, I’m grateful that I had some really great influences, like my grandparents and my brother. My brother was like, “Here, listen to the Smashing Pumpkins.” And then my grandfather’s like, “Here, listen to some Bing Crosby.” So luckily that was still a part of my younger life, those formative years.

Tracy Davis: Did you learning about music therapy that you wanted to be a music therapist, get you to then starting to learn instruments, or were you already learning those?

AJ Denne: No, I know I joined an elementary school, when I was in fourth grade, where you get to pick up an instrument. I played flute up until then and then when I started to do marching band.

Tracy Davis: Okay. That’s right, because you were in the marching band and then she’s the one that… Okay.

Danielle Porter: Once we’re admitted to school for music therapy, we have to take class voice, class piano, guitar. And then we also have to take individualized music.

Tracy Davis: Like class, you mean classical?

Danielle Porter: No, like class, doing it in a class setting, like a group setting. So there’s beginning, intermediate and advanced guitar that we have to take. And then same thing with piano and then individualized private lessons for our primary instrument or voice because some people’s primary instrument is their voice. So that’s all part of our curriculum. And then music theory, music history, in addition to some of those classes we talked about earlier.

Tracy Davis: Is the goal to get you so confident with the instrument, that whatever instrument you’re playing, the instrument of yourself, so that, that way you can focus on doing the therapy?

Danielle Porter: Exactly.

Tracy Davis: You are not hindered.

AJ Denne: You got it. By the music. We’re therapists first.

Tracy Davis: I know this thing would help this patient so well, but I don’t know how to play it or do it, I don’t know how to play this instrument or whatever.

Danielle Porter: Right. First and foremost, we are therapists, then we are musicians. You should know your acts, your musical acts, well enough to where you aren’t so engrossed in it during your session that you can’t see what’s going on in front of you with your interaction with your patient, with your client.

Tracy Davis: Sure. Right.

Danielle Porter: Because that definitely is a priority.

Tracy Davis: Right. That’d be like me not knowing my camera well enough to do my job.

Danielle Porter: Exactly.

AJ Denne: Right.

Danielle Porter: That’d be like playing with the settings. Yeah.

AJ Denne: Yeah. That’s like the settings on your camera, right?

Tracy Davis: Yeah.

AJ Denne: You’re just changing the settings without thinking about it. But you’re focusing on what you’re taking the photo of.

Tracy Davis: What are some of the success stories or patient feedback that you guys get maybe from family members of how what you’ve done has impacted themselves or their family member as the patient?

Danielle Porter: Yeah. We get a lot of feedback from patients saying that they wish they had more sessions.

Tracy Davis: While they were here.

Danielle Porter: Yeah. So I think the biggest difference between how we provide services at the inpatient hospital versus how the other clinicians provide services is that we only see patients once a day for 30 minutes and we try to see as many patients as we can. So we have, between AJ and I, eight to 12 patients on the caseload where OT and PT and speech are seeing these patients for an hour and a half or so every day. And so that’s a very common comment.

Tracy Davis: Sounds like you guys need two more employees at least.

Danielle Porter: Yeah, it’d be great. It’d definitely be great.

AJ Denne: Sounds like it.

Tracy Davis: Especially for the new facility out there.

AJ Denne: Yes.

Danielle Porter: Yep. We are trying to expand little by little throughout various parts of the system. So that’s a popular comment. And then one of the other, I guess, in terms of feel good stories would just be when we see patients that are able to do something that they weren’t able to do even just a day before, or even a week before, a month before. And for me, I’m very passionate about aphasia and Parkinson’s. Those are probably my two biggest interests. So when I see someone who is able to speak and say their name or tell their loved one that they love them after not being able to speak after so many weeks or months, that is so gratifying for me. I’m getting teary-eyed just thinking about it.

Tracy Davis: Speech is one of those, like it hit me the most after I did the aphasia video a couple of years ago, just the importance of having the mind, for aphasia specifically, having the mind to say it, but you can’t physically get your body to do it and how trapping that is. And so I can imagine what you would feel whenever that happens. It’s like a breakthrough moment.

Danielle Porter: Yeah. And I have to give a shout out to Jodi Morgan at the aphasia center. She has mentored both myself and AJ in many ways about how to work with persons with aphasia. And she’s taught us a lot of wonderful techniques that have translated beautifully to music therapy. And we wouldn’t have the success we do with our patients without mentors like her and other clinicians in the field of rehabilitation. Collaboration is just so important in rehabilitation and really in any medical setting for treating the entire person.

Tracy Davis: Yeah. For anyone listening, if you go back into our Brooks podcasts catalog, Jodi was one of the first ones.

Danielle Porter: She was.

Tracy Davis: And that was a really good episode. So if you’re interested in learning more about aphasia and our aphasia center. She’s great. Yeah, I could see how she’d be an amazing mentor for all.

Danielle Porter: Yes.

AJ Denne: She’s wonderful. One of the super unique parts of my job specifically, because I do work in so many locations, is I get to follow some of our patients from the inpatient hospital all the way out into our community. So I remember specifically one patient that I had and we saw them at inpatient, and then they went to outpatient at the neuro recovery center, and I was able to see them there, out into the independent program, like in the community.

Tracy Davis: So you see their progress.

AJ Denne: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So it’s really, really nice and special to be able to see the progress and also having a familiar face. If they go from the hospital to a skilled nursing or hospital to assisted living, it’s scary to go from one facility where you just learned everybody’s names and just learned everyone’s faces to now being transferred to somewhere else where you have to start that whole process over.

Tracy Davis: And another huge benefit of the Brooks system, and that’s why we talk about that a lot, is this because it’s so unique and other healthcare systems don’t have that. Maybe you get some service here, but then you got to go find a whole nother company to deal with.

Danielle Porter: The handoff instills a lot of confidence in our clients that we serve, knowing that they’re staying within the system and they can continue working on goals from one location to the next.

Tracy Davis: Sure. So as we’re wrapping up here, what are some things that you guys would like for people to know about music therapy, maybe in general, and then maybe more specifically at Brooks? What do you want people to leave with?

Danielle Porter: Want people to know that you don’t have to be musically inclined to benefit from music therapy, is the common misconception that you have to have played an instrument or had some kind of musical training in order to benefit.

Tracy Davis: That the patient did?

Danielle Porter: Yes.

Tracy Davis: Okay.

Danielle Porter: Yep. And I would say almost, greater than 90% of our patients, don’t have musical training and they improve leaps and bounds through music therapy and in collaboration with OT and music therapy treatments, PT, music therapy, and speech therapy, music therapy co-treats.

Tracy Davis: Has a patient ever grabbed a guitar and started playing and stuff like that?

AJ Denne: Yes.

Danielle Porter: Yeah. Yeah.

Tracy Davis: I would imagine. Yeah, yeah.

Danielle Porter: It’s actually something interesting that both AJ and I have experienced that patients who do have a musical background actually have a more difficult time emotionally with music therapy. And it makes sense.

Tracy Davis: Difficult, how so?

Danielle Porter: Difficult because they’re very hard on themselves. I recently had a patient who he played piano professionally, or semi-professionally, and he had a brain injury that impacted his ability to use his right hand, which is the melody line on the piano, very important. So he was very, very good at doing the baseline and the left hand, but he was very frustrated with not being able to use his right hand the way he wanted to. His fingers were trembling and they were weak and they couldn’t make the keys produce a sound every time he pressed them.

Tracy Davis: Because he has that history of being good at it, he’s frustrated that he’s not good at it.

Danielle Porter: He’s frustrated and depressed too.

Tracy Davis: Sure.

Danielle Porter: A lot of our folks who have had music backgrounds, they’re saying, “Well, this was my hobby. This was my joy. And now, I can’t do that anymore.” And so we try to remain really sensitive to those types of patients. And we often have to invoke some of the counseling techniques that we learned in school as well. And sometimes we don’t do the more physical goals. Sometimes we focus more on doing a lyric analysis or song writing to help with coping and processing what that patient is going through.

Tracy Davis: So the benefit of someone that doesn’t have a musical background is they don’t have any baseline of excellence of being good at music.

Danielle Porter: Exactly.

Tracy Davis: They just know they’re not good at it, so they can just enjoy it.

Danielle Porter: Yes. Yep. They can just live in the moment and experience it.

Tracy Davis: Right.

AJ Denne: Yeah. But the opposite happens with musicians too. Sometimes they get even more motivated because they’re like, “I want to get back to this and I want to do this.”

Tracy Davis: Sure. So now they have a goal.

AJ Denne: Yeah, right? It creates a goal that they can relate to in their mind, as they say, “Oh, I used to be able to play this song. I want to do this again.” And they are working so much harder to get to that goal.

Tracy Davis: Okay. Is there a specific success story of someone that comes to mind over your careers doing this?

Danielle Porter: There are so many.

AJ Denne: Where do I start?

Tracy Davis: Maybe something, what you did specifically helped them the most? Not just at Brooks, but just because of music therapy.

Danielle Porter: Well, one of the most common things that is just amazing to witness is when we use live, auditory, rhythmic cues to help patients relearn how to walk again.

Tracy Davis: I think I’ve seen you do some of that.

Danielle Porter: Yeah, in the hallway. We’re usually ambulating around the nurses station.

AJ Denne: Backwards.

Danielle Porter: Yes. Yeah, we get to walk backwards and play and sing and give verbal cues at the same time. It’s awesome. It’s so much fun. And it never fails. The family members and our co-treat partners, they always say to us at the end of the session, “He just walked three times the distance that he did before you guys showed up.” And so that happens to us on a weekly basis. And it’s not us though, it’s the music. It’s the brain, it’s doing its job. And so we’re just the facilitators.

Tracy Davis: Right.

Danielle Porter: And so we’re so grateful to be able to witness miracles like that on the daily.

Tracy Davis: Was there any hesitation in the beginning of when you first came? Because you were the first music therapist.

Danielle Porter: I was.

Tracy Davis: As far as like, this is new. Were therapists like, what is this?

Danielle Porter: Oh my gosh. Yeah.

Tracy Davis: I’m sure. I was imagining like, okay, how’s music going to help these patients that need to walk again?

Danielle Porter: Yeah. It took a lot of education when I first came on board. I think I spent like the first two or three months just educating and doing in-services on all the floors and showing video examples and really just building the program from scratch and showing them, the clinicians and administration and everybody, just trying to show them why there was such a need for music therapy. And it was a challenge, but it was one I would be glad to do all over again because that’s my passion, is just educating people on our field. Our field only has about 8,000 people, 8,000 board certified.

AJ Denne: We reached 10,000.

Danielle Porter: Oh, we did.

AJ Denne: Yeah, they made a big post about it.

Danielle Porter: Edit.

AJ Denne: Edit, 10,000.

Tracy Davis: Wow.

Danielle Porter: So there are 10,000 music therapists in the nation and more, globally. But still, when you compare that to the fields of PT, OT, ST, even psychology, it’s really tiny. So a lot of people don’t know about music therapy. So it’s our job to advocate for our field, 24/7.

Tracy Davis: Hopefully, you’ll be able to use this podcast and share it around.

Danielle Porter: Yeah.

AJ Denne: I always tell people, I say, I spend half of my life at work and I spend the other half of my life explaining what I do for work.

Danielle Porter: It’s funny that we’re doing this podcast today because January is Music Therapy Social Media Awareness Month.

Tracy Davis: Yeah. I love those awareness months where they keep adding more words into it.

AJ Denne: Right.

Danielle Porter: It makes me tongue tied.

AJ Denne: I got you.

Tracy Davis: That’s great. Well, as we’re wrapping up, I know you guys have some things you want people to know about, like the amount of people that we serve here and stuff like that with music therapy.

AJ Denne: Yeah. So between all of our music therapists, we serve 135 people, that’s at all of our locations that we go to. So we have three music therapists, we have two full-time music therapist and one part-time music therapist. So we try our very, very best to reach as many people as possible with only being three people.

Danielle Porter: And that’s 135 people per week. And part of the reason why we’re able to see so many is because both AJ and our PRN music therapist, Brittany, facilitate a lot of groups. The more people that you see in a group, the more people overall you can see system wide.

Tracy Davis: I could imagine that’d be another preconception people have about music therapy is you just get people in a group and they all sing and clap together and stuff.

Danielle Porter: Oh, yeah.

Tracy Davis: So that’s why I’m glad we really focused on the individual things that you guys do.

Danielle Porter: We always have goals in mind.

Tracy Davis: Sure.

Danielle Porter: No matter what the setting is and no matter what the population is. And I think you’re right, a lot of people hear the word music therapy and they either think, “Oh, I’m listening to my iPod” or number two, “Oh, we’re going to sit around and sing kumbaya and just drum.”

AJ Denne: Have a jolly, grand old time.

Tracy Davis: Or depending on how the word therapy is framed in their mind, they might think of it like as a meditation, like they listen to music and then it’s going to calm them down or something, but not therapy in a clinical reference.

Danielle Porter: I do want to mention that music therapy looks very different in other settings. So here we have more of the neuroscience focus, but in other settings, there might be more of a cognitive behavioral focus.

Tracy Davis: You mean outside of the hospital?

Danielle Porter: Yeah, there are other, music therapists serve other populations in other settings. Some music therapists work in juvenile centers, the school systems.

AJ Denne: Prisons.

Danielle Porter: Yeah, prisons, assisted living. Basically, anywhere you’d find a nurse, you can find a music therapist. And so there are different philosophies of practicing music therapy. We just happen to be aligned with the neurologic philosophy. And so I try to compare these philosophies to the philosophies that are used for the field of psychology. You’ve got Freud and you’ve got Jung and they had different theories and they practiced in those ways. And so that’s very much how music therapy is, different populations call for different approaches.

Tracy Davis: And really quick, we were going to mention too, how many schools have music therapy programs?

AJ Denne: There are at least 80 undergrad programs where you can get an undergraduate degree in music therapy.

Danielle Porter: Some of those 80 have equivalency programs, masters programs and PhD programs.

Tracy Davis: Okay. So you can get your PhD in music therapy.

Danielle Porter: Yeah.

AJ Denne: Yes, you can. You can, you can get your PhD and become a professor of music therapy and do lots and lots of research within our field, which we need.

Danielle Porter: I want to point out though, you can do research without having your PhD. And that’s one of the things that we’ve been working on here as well. We’ve done a little bit of research. Last year, we finished up a study, and the study is the effects of therapeutic group singing on voice, cough and quality of life in Parkinson’s disease. And we are actually trying to submit that to the Journal of Clinical Rehabilitation to see if we can share the results of the study.

So I was a facilitator in that study. And then hopefully, once COVID calms down, we hope to be able to embark on our neuro symphony study that I’m the primary investigator on. But Jodi Morgan, again, she’s getting lots of mentions this podcast, she is a co-PI with me on that, as well as Megan Bewernitz, who is an OT professor at JU. And so we are trying to do a study with persons with aphasia. So it’s an interdisciplinary music making pilot program.

Tracy Davis: That’d be very interesting.

Danielle Porter: Yeah. So research is definitely an interest of mine. It’s hard to make time for all of the passions that AJ and I have.

Tracy Davis: Yeah.

AJ Denne: We want to do all the things.

Tracy Davis: Yeah, I’m sure.

Danielle Porter: And we wear many hats, but we are passionate about all of the things that we strive for.

Tracy Davis: Yeah.

AJ Denne: Yes.

Tracy Davis: Any other things you guys want to mention before we go?

Danielle Porter: Just that really COVID has not slowed us down. We’ve been very fortunate through the pandemic, one, to have our jobs still. And two, to be able to adapt. The groups that we’ve had that used to be in person, we’re now able to do many of them on Zoom. And although it’s not 100% ideal, we are thankful that we still can reach those people and they’re not being isolated by not being able and not having the opportunity to come to our in-person groups. And so we are looking forward to resuming a lot of those because there are some major elements of music that are missed when we’re not doing in-person treatment.

Tracy Davis: Oh, sure.

Danielle Porter: And so we’re looking forward to the pandemic quieting down, hopefully soon.

Tracy Davis: Yeah. A lot of people are like, “Oh, I’m okay working from home.” I’m like, I love interacting with people.

Danielle Porter: Yes.

Tracy Davis: I miss that human interaction. And there’s so many industries that they need that human, like comedians, it’s not the same doing a comedy show over Zoom and stuff like that, you need that in-person. So yeah, hopefully you guys will be back to that soon.

AJ Denne: Hopefully. But the benefit of Zoom is that you can reach so many more people, right? You don’t have to be in the same state, city, location, area. You could be anywhere in the country theoretically.

Tracy Davis: So is that some of the telehealth stuff that you guys are doing, helping with?

AJ Denne: Yes, I do, our Parkinson’s choir is online.

Tracy Davis: Okay.

AJ Denne: On zoom. And then we also run an aphasia group, as well online.

Danielle Porter: Two aphasia groups.

AJ Denne: And I do my children’s choirs online too.

Tracy Davis: Great.

AJ Denne: So all of those are open to the community.

Tracy Davis: Yeah. Telehealth’s been huge. We were obviously doing it before COVID at Brooks, but it’s been even more so this past year. So it’s a great thing.

Danielle Porter: Yeah. It’s been different. It’s definitely taken some adapting to.

AJ Denne: I have so many PowerPoints now.

Danielle Porter: But I guess the only other thing that we want to mention, if we can tie it in somewhere is we’re really just looking to grow our program. Even though I’ve been here for almost six years, we’re just now getting another full-time music therapist, which I’m so grateful to have a colleague to collaborate with. And with the two of us, our energy and our focus, we are hoping to continue to grow to different areas that are missing music therapy services, mostly on the community level. We aren’t in the outpatient setting yet. And there are still many more children’s programs that we’re hoping to maybe serve in St. Johns and Duval County in future years. And then as you mentioned, the new inpatient hospital at Bartram.

Tracy Davis: Yeah, we just had our groundbreaking.

AJ Denne: I saw.

Danielle Porter: I saw that. That was a great post.

Tracy Davis: Yeah. Where’d you see it? Where’d they post it?

Danielle Porter: Facebook.

AJ Denne: Online, on Facebook.

Tracy Davis: Okay. I didn’t know if they shared it already.

AJ Denne: They did.

Danielle Porter: Yeah. Those were cool pictures. I want one of those golden shovels.

Tracy Davis: They’re right down on the second floor in projects. They keep them in there.

AJ Denne: That’s cool. Just run down and grab one.

Danielle Porter: Those are cool.

Tracy Davis: Well, thanks again. You guys, I think you’re doing as much as you possibly can with the two of you and then hopefully you guys get to grow in the future and your PRN person. So that’s fantastic. Thank you guys for everything that you do, and I’m sure our patients and therapists and everyone are so appreciative for your program and what you guys are doing. And thanks for coming on here to let everyone know.

Danielle Porter: Thanks for inviting us.

AJ Denne: Yeah, thank you.

Danielle Porter: We really appreciate the opportunity to share what music therapy is all about at Brooks.

Medical Reviewers

Danielle Porter, MM, MT-BC

Music Therapy Program Coordinator, Neurologic Music Therapist Fellow
Danielle Porter is a Board Certified Music Therapist with a Master’s Degree in Music Therapy and a Certificate in Gerontology from Florida State University. She received specialized training in Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) and obtained the distinction of NMT Fellow. Danielle implemented the first music therapy program at Brooks Rehabilitation in Jacksonville, FL in 2015. Danielle’s passion for education and advocacy has led her to present at regional and national conferences including the American Congress of Rehabilitative Medicine and the American Music Therapy Association.

AJ Denne MM, MT-BC

Music Therapist
Alexandria (AJ) Denne is a board certified music therapist who received her Master’s degree in Music Therapy from Florida State University in 2017. Since January of 2020 when AJ joined the Music Therapy department, she has worked at various facilitates throughout the Brooks system of care. She particularly shows interest with the inpatient rehabilitation population and our pediatric recreation program.