Music Therapy News: Please Help us Welcome Lisa Ziemelis, MT-BC, NMT to the Absenger Cancer Education Foundation!
I was raised in Muskegon, MI, and from an early age was strongly influenced by music. Each of my family members either played an instrument or sang, and it wasn’t long before I was begging to be allowed to take piano lessons like my older siblings. Finally, at the age of seven, my parents conceded, and thus began my music career.
I took piano and clarinet lessons through elementary and high school. I always enjoyed playing, but never seriously thought about continuing my music career past high school. It wasn’t until I arrived at college and was faced with the daunting task of choosing a major that I decided to stay with what was comfortable and continue my music studies.
However, none of the majors seemed to click with me. I tried on music education for size, but quickly realized I was not cut out to be a choir director or to write drill for a marching band. I then attained the lofty idea of playing clarinet in a symphony orchestra and switched my major to music performance. I crumpled after 7 months of practicing 5-plus hours per day. I (and I’m sure my father) was beginning to regret my decision to stick with what was “easy and comfortable” in college, until I heard about music therapy.
I didn’t know much about music therapy at the time, and the small college that I was attending didn’t offer the program, so I decided to do some job shadowing. I loved what I saw! I realized that music therapy offered what I was wanting from both of my previous study areas. With music therapy, I could interact with people and use music to enrich lives as much as mine had been.
I earned my bachelor’s degree in music therapy from Western Michigan University in 2011. This included a 900-hour internship, which I completed at the Lighthouse Neurological Rehabilitation Center in Caro, MI. I married my husband, Karl, the summer of 2011 and we settled in Spring Lake, MI. I took a position as a Life Enrichment Coordinator at a nearby assisted living center, and although I was working in a field related to music therapy, I didn’t feel that I was utilizing all of my skills I had just worked so hard to attain in college. At the same time, Karl was also feeling unfulfilled in his job. In the spring of 2012, we moved to Lansing, MI, and Karl enrolled in classes at MSU to earn his secondary teaching certificate.
It was my hope that there would be more job opportunities in Lansing for music therapy, and I was not disappointed! I began working at Sparrow Hospital towards the end of 2012, joining their team of activity therapists in the behavioral health department. My position required me to work on several units, such as adult psychiatric, geriatric psychiatric, substance abuse, and a partial hospitalization program.
In the spring of 2013, a part-time music therapy position became available at the MSU Community Music School. I jumped at the chance to gain some more experience in a completely different area of music therapy. Through MSU CMS, I worked one-on-one with children with varying disabilities. I also fulfilled a small contract with a local hospice company and had a small caseload of patients I would see for music therapy sessions each week. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity I had at MSU to work alongside some of the most fun-loving and creative music therapists there are.
I’m so looking forward to this next chapter in my music therapy career. I truly believe that each job has been a vital stepping-stone for the next, and I know I would not be where I am today without those experiences. I am thrilled to be joining the team at the Absenger Cancer Education Foundation and am excited by the research opportunities and potential. I am interested in exploring the effects that music-assisted relaxation has on anxiety levels in cancer survivors.
I know from research and experience that music therapy is an extremely effective tool in developing coping skills, encouraging emotional expression through music and art, and promoting social interaction. Music is engaging and opens up opportunities to connect and share a positive experience. I look forward to having the opportunity to share these experiences with you.