Provided by Josh Heath

Beyond being a source of entertainment, music has many potential psychological and cognitive benefits, such as improving mood, providing an outlet for emotional expression and developing social skills. Veronica Andreassen-Barker loves helping her clients enjoy these benefits as a board-certified music therapist with the Augusta Symphony’s Community Chords outreach program. Specifically, Andreassen-Barker provides free music therapy to groups of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in partnership with local disability support service providers, such as Accent, Inc., and the Tri-Development Center of Aiken County. This type of therapy “uses music to help people reach non-musical goals,” which can be physical, social, emotional or psychological, she says.

According to Andreassen-Barker, music therapy is used in a variety of settings, including mental health, hospice and skilled nursing facilities. Music therapists even work with infants in neonatal intensive care units, she says. Andreassen-Barker was hired by the Symphony in August 2019 and held her first therapy group in October. The groups normally meet at the Knox Music Institute, which is housed above the Box Office at the Miller Theater. Music therapy incorporates listening to music, playing instruments and discussing music. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the institute has been closed since mid-March, but Andreassan-Barker continues providing therapy by conducting telehealth sessions with her clients. She says she chooses types of music her clients enjoy. “I’m constantly learning new music,” Andreassen-Barker says. She describes playing Kenny Chesney songs for a group of country music fans. Being involved in these groups helps her clients build connections with one another, she says. “Creating a community in music is what makes me happy,” says Andreassen-Barker.

While many young adults change their career plans frequently, that wasn’t the case for her. After watching a TV news story about music therapy at New York University with her grandmother, Andreassen-Barker was inspired to become a music therapist in the eighth grade. “Once I learned about a caregiving profession that involved music, I was sold,” she says. A mother of three, she has always loved music, but what she enjoys most about her career is interacting with the people she helps. “I’ve been a musician for most of my life,” Andreassen-Barker says. She grew up playing the piano and performed in church. “Music therapy allows the spotlight to be on other people, not me,” she says. At Furman University, Andreassen-Barker studied music and psychology and she earned a master’s degree in counseling with an emphasis on music therapy from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Before joining the Symphony staff, Andreassen-Barker worked as a music therapist in mental health and hospice facilities. Music therapy is the newest part of Community Chords, which also includes Veterans Outreach and School Outreach programs.

This article appears in the July 2020 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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