Day in the Work Life: Music therapist

Music therapist Holly Miller.

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TESS VIGELAND: This week New York's Metropolitan Opera revealed it's lost a third of its endowment. The Opera's general manager told The New York Times that donations have fallen by some $10 million and senior staff are taking pay cuts.

But the music of the night will go on -- perhaps to provide therapy for audience members struggling with their own financial worries.

Music can be a refuge in hard times. On this week's a Day in the work life, we meet someone who uses it as a kind of medicine.

HOLLY MILLER: My name is Holly Miller. I'm 38 years old and I'm a psychotherapist practicing music therapy.

Music therapy makes a lot of sense to use with young children because they really don't have the ability to have insight about their lives. I mean, I can't really say, "Hey, let's go back and talk about your childhood." Or, "What kind of patterns brought you to this sort of behavior?"

A lot of children I work with have autism. And a common feature of autism is difficulty with language and communication. And one of the things we know is that language and singing occupy two different parts of the brain, although some of it overlaps. But it gives me a different inroad to help them learn language. And it's just amazingly exciting when I come week to week and I see progress and progress. And these kids really learn to speak using music.

Music can be used with adults as well. In fact, I've had some people who have had anxiety and panic attacks that were so bad they couldn't drive the freeways. So, in sessions we've done relaxation skills and then we've eventually paired that with a piece of music, which gives them a skill that they can use outside of the office so that we can take them from being really, really anxious on the freeways to being functional.

I originally started teaching piano, flute and voice. And I also had a degree in psychology just because I always thought it was fascinating. And there was a little piece of me that wanted to be brain surgeon when I was growing up.

I started attracting a lot of families with special needs children, families with extraordinarily gifted children that were having emotional problems, and people started knowing that I could teach these children. People started saying to me, "You know, you get more out of my child in a half-hour music lesson than their therapist does in an hour." So, I really realized I was sort of in over my head at that point, and I needed more training. So I went back to school and I became a psychotherapist.

As a therapist, you really have to engage in a great deal of self-care. I exercise. I eat right. I go to the spa. I do lots and lots of things to take care of myself, so that when I'm with a person who's in pain, I'm fully present.

If you're a psychotherapist or a music therapist, you can make anywhere between $30,000 a year and $100,000 a year or more. I make around $85,000 a year depending on how much I choose to work.

I had a wonderful lady come in to see me one time, in her 70s, and I had a moment of fear thinking, "Oh my gosh, I'm too young. You know, maybe she thinks I can't help her." So I just faced it straight on and I asked her, you know, "Are age differences a problem for you?" And she said to me, "My last therapist died. I want a therapist who can be there for me and go the distance."

VIGELAND: That was music therapist Holly Miller. A Day in the Work Life was reported by Claes Andreasson.

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