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Music helps local veterans mend

By Kimberly Jordan kjordan@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:02 PM

Music can do many things. It lets people express creativity and emotions and can transport the listener to a different time or place. Now, the power of music has been harnessed to help veterans recover from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Tina Haynes, a certified music therapist at the Veterans Administration Tennessee Valley Healthcare System in Murfreesboro, and Bob Regan, a Nashville musician and Grammy Award-winning songwriter, are using the craft of songwriting as therapy for veterans. The program is offered at the Alvin C. York campus of the VA healthcare system, and Haynes said their program was one of the earliest instituted through the VA.

“I’ve been here over 33 years,” Haynes said. “This program was one of the first in the system. It was started in the mid- to late-’40s.”

Currently the campus offers a community therapy session as well as a men’s version and a ladies group, said Haynes. The system also has a community drumming program and an option for those who are unable to attend the group session.

“We also have a program where the smaller percussion instruments are taken to rooms for veterans who cannot leave their rooms or are more isolated,” Haynes said.

Most veterans in the group have little-to-no experience with music. Haynes says that should not stop veterans from participating, because the staff provides all equipment and instruction. There are several different options for therapy, depending on the patient and their needs, said Haynes.

“We evaluate the patient’s needs and develop a treatment program based on that. Some things are group therapy and some things are one-on-one.”

One of the most popular programs offered as part of the music therapy is the songwriting group.

According to Haynes, the group offers safety, support and stimulation for veterans to tell their stories and express their thoughts and feelings though songwriting. She says the goal of the program is to provide an environment for emotional, spiritual and psychosocial support. This, Haynes said, will help develop insights into their struggles as well as problem-solving skills and social interaction.

“It’s important to put meaning and connect to what we have seen,” said Haynes. “While therapy is a good idea for veterans, music therapy adds an extra dimension that is not accessed through standard ‘talk’ therapy.”

Haynes said the group gets “dramatic responses” from the participants.

“It is amazing the responses that we see,” she said.

While the group is light-hearted and many of the songs they write reflect the playful atmosphere, the group has a more somber side as well. Haynes said that helps them deal with the issues of PTSD and the memories of war.

One such song written by the group, “Still Coming Home,” clearly outlines the purpose of the songwriting group. The song highlights how many veterans still struggle with their time in a combat zone - even years after returning from war. The song’s lyrics include the line “the battles may be over, but they rage on in our hearts.”

Haynes said the songwriting group has been a very successful endeavor.

“Our songwriting group has been so successful that we have trouble discharging some vets because they don’t want to leave. That’s a sign that we are doing something right,” she said.

For more information on the music therapy songwriting group, contact Haynes at tina.haynes@va.gov.

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