Music therapy is helping me recover from Aphasia

Stephen Gibbs had a stroke two years ago, and developed aphasia as a result. The neurological condition affects a person’s ability to communicate, and left the Wellingtonian essentially mute. A musician and music teacher – amongst other things – by trade, Stephen turned to music therapy and writing as part of his recovery. Doing so has made a big impact on his capacity to communicate and create, and he is now also the Wellington Community Aphasia Advisor for Aphasia NZ. I spoke to Stephen about the role music has played in his recovery for Impolitikal.

It is a way of engaging musical elements to bring positive therapeutic results.

Can you describe how it works?

The elements of music are various. Obviously the basic elements are rhythm and timbre – the tone quality of the instrument or voice. Rhythm is subdivided into pulse, beat or other rhythms. Then there is melody, harmony, dynamics, form, style. The repetitive nature of rhythm and melody and their form are very helpful for people struggling to make communicative sense. It is about fluency. The other thing is, music crosses the boundaries of the brain’s hemispheres – left and right. It is mathematical and affective. It is structured and emotional. It is language and poetry.

Why do you think making music is such a powerful form of therapy?

As I said, music crosses the boundaries of the brain’s hemispheres, and it remains in the memory much longer than ‘facts’. It is an important part of our emotional and spiritual being. When words fail, music is there.

What are some of the issues music therapy can help people with?

Speech, obviously! Memory, such as with dementia, coordination – physical, mental, spiritual – sociability, success-factors. And fun!

How has it aided your own recovery from aphasia? 

Most of my musical skills were intact – thankfully. I had no paralysis, my brain was fine, and my limbs were quite functional. But I had dyspraxia too – I couldn’t form the words that I intended to…

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