A New Year to Consider Music Therapy

Sessions Offered at all Three Clinics

When Kodi Lee won America’s Got Talent this past summer as a singer and piano player, it was a victory that went beyond rewarding incredible talent and winning a million dollars and the life-changing opportunity of being show-cased in Las Vegas.  It was a triumph for everyone who ever doubted their abilities or gave up on themselves because no one would give them a chance. Even more, it proved that all of us — even a child that is blind and non-verbal on the autism spectrum (ASD) can excel with the right guidance and encouragement.

Lee’s win also showed the power of music and music therapy in particular, a modality that Great Strides Rehabilitation has been offering for several years now. Being a new year, it’s another tool parents and practitioners may want to start including as part of their child’s journey to independence.

What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.

According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), music therapy “is a well-established allied health profession that uses music therapeutically to address behavioral, social, psychological, communicative, physical, sensory-motor, and/or cognitive functioning. Because it is a powerful and non-threatening medium, unique outcomes are possible.

Research supports its effectiveness in overall physical rehabilitation, increasing people’s motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and an outlet for expression of feelings.

As Lee demonstrated, and several talented Great Strides students have also shown, many youth with ASD have innate musical talents with music therapy opening this world for the student/patient.

How Does Music Therapy Differ from Entertaining?

A board-certified Music Therapist must complete an AMTA approved university program, complete 1200 hours in a clinical setting (minimum of 900 hours internship), and pass the board certification exam.  This includes demonstrating competency in playing guitar, piano, percussion, and singing.

Because music therapy is individualized and client-centered, during a session, the therapist and their musical abilities is not the focus; instead the focus is on each child’s goals through facilitating their musical and non-musical development. In turn, focusing on strengths addresses each individual’s areas of need.

New Music Therapist’s Journey Offers Many Benefits to Your Child’s Learning

Music Therapist Karen Howell’s Journey and Background

Great Strides Rehab is proud to welcome Music Therapist Karen Howell, MA, LPMT, MT-BC, to our staff of professionals, who joined our team last summer.  Actually, parents and students got to know Howell months earlier during her internship as a practicum student working with former Music Therapist Gretchen Mitchell. Now, as a recent employee, Howell sees children individually and within groups at all three clinic locations. Like some therapists who chose to help children with disabilities, her journey to music therapy began with a personal encounter that happened to occur as a high school student.

“When I was in high school, I had a friend with high-functioning autism. I noticed that she communicated with others most easily in a musical setting as she could rarely make eye contact or answer questions unless she was in band class,” explained Howell. “Though she was able to verbally communicate, she struggled with the social skills that are so necessary in high school. Wondering how could she be such a different person in the band room than other times at school is what peaked my interest in music therapy. I saw the joy in my friend’s eyes when she played the flute, and the comfort and peace she felt as she played. I not only wanted to learn more about autism, but also how music helps treat children at all stages of development.”

Howell explains that her educational journey may have been different from other music therapists as she fell in love with a college that had a strong music program but no music therapy department. As a result, she decided to first double major in music and psychology, graduating from Brevard College in North Carolina with a B.A. in Music and B.A. in Psychology, followed by a M.A. in Psychology from Stony Brook University on Long Island. Next, she earned a Music Therapy Equivalency degree from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute, Indiana.

“These educational choices have made me the musically and psychologically knowledgeable therapist that I am today,” said Howell.

Howell incorporates eight different methods of therapy as well as her advanced psychology and musical training.


These eight main methods include: Nordoff-Robbins, Orff, Bonny Guided Imagery, Dalcroze, Kodaly, Community, Analytical and Neurologic Music Therapy.  Emotional, psychological, and physical needs may be met through each of the methods. Howell states she uses the methods of Nordoff-Robbins in each session and also includes components of each method. Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy features spontaneous improvisation that is inspired by each child. By using music to highlight the child’s responses in the moment, this approach is highly effective in gathering the attention and validating the responses of each child.

“Children are able to express themselves through songwriting, instrument playing, listening to, and singing familiar songs,” said Howell.


With communication being such an integral function that is impacted in autism, Music Therapy is beneficial in fostering non-verbal communication and expression that are accessible whether a child is able to verbalize or not. Music Therapy is also used to promote psychological coping skills. Other cognitive skills that transfer from Music Therapy sessions to the classroom environment include sequencing, decision-making, and problem-solving skills and can be used alongside OT and PT to improve target motor movements.

Offered Classes and Their Focus

Hand bell ensemble: (45 min.) (early elementary)

Group members will play an assortment of preferred songs by each selecting a hand bell of their choice. Color-coded teaching and conducting will be the avenue for growth and development of this ensemble. The motor skills targeted for this group are more based on fine-motor abilities. This ensemble will address goals of increased impulse control, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, attention, sustained eye contact, following directions, turn taking, and sequencing skills.

Ukulele group: (1 hr.) (late elementary)

The ukulele has become a popular instrument of choice for musicians aged from early childhood to late adulthood! This portable instrument will be used in a group session to further develop fine motor skills and coordination. Listening to other group members will be a large focus of this group that is designed to introduce a collection of familiar songs on the ukulele. This ensemble will address goals of fine motor skills, attention, synchronization, and self-expression.

Songwriting Group: (1 hr.) (middle and high school level)

This group will focus on creativity and self-expression. The music therapist will begin the course with mad-lib style songwriting and progress to the point that each member will write and perform their own song, as well as contributing to group formulated songs. This ensemble will address goals of enhanced self-expression, self-esteem, coping skills, and complex thinking.

Psychological/emotional development group: (1 hr.)

Through use of various music therapy techniques and interventions, members will learn ways to cope with everyday problems. Communication will be a large emphasis of this group as members learn communication skills within group that will transfer to the outside setting. Examples of group interventions include: songwriting, lyric analysis, instrument-playing, and singing. Goals that will be addressed include socialization, communication, mood regulation, coping skill development, self-expression, conflict resolution, self-esteem improvement, stress management, and increased motivation.

Family support group: (1 hr.)

During these sessions, family members of those with ASD or any other developmental, psychiatric, or communication disorders will assemble to share experiences with each other about day-to-day challenges associated with living with loved ones with these disorders. Self-expression and group encouragement will be the primary focus of this ensemble. An assortment of different interventions will be used to encourage members to express themselves through music. Goals addressed include stress management, acceptance, validation, independence, conflict resolution, coping skills, group cohesion, and a provided sense of accomplishment and hope.

Locations Served with Music Therapist Karen

All Kids North and Orange Park
Fletchers Tender Care North and South
Great Strides Rehab: Orange Park
                               Mandarin and

Call the main number at (904) 866-3228 to set up an appointment at any location/ day/time depending on availability.