Music therapy for mental health

By Deborah Cardoso


Whether it’s a drum circle or therapeutic singing, music therapy comes in all sounds.

Ariel Weissberger who founded Berko Music Therapy in Manhattan in 2013, has dedicated his life and musical talent to help others by using music as a coping mechanism.

“We just respond naturally (to music),” said Weissberger. People who are experiencing a decline in mental ability are still able to participate in music therapy, he said. They are able to tell “when a song starts or when it ends when it gets louder or softer,” said Weissberger.

Music therapy was first introduced as a medical practice during World War I and World War II in Veterans Administration Hospitals to aid veterans. It was used to treat veterans suffering from both physical and emotional trauma caused by war.

Since then, it has been used on people of all ages and in various different settings. From helping children with bipolar disorder to adults struggling with depression, to veterans coming back from combat, music therapy can be therapeutic to many.

Ariel Weissberger works mainly with elderly clients who have dementia or Alzheimers. Sessions are held either individually or in groups, sometimes in a hospital.

“I have had amazing experiences playing music with people who have dementia and are 90 years old,” said Weissberger.

Weissberger has been able to combine his passion for music with his love for helping people.

Specializing in adults with dementia and Alzheimer’s, can be challenging and it is hard to measure success, but Weissberger describes the progression he is able to see sometimes by the end of an hour long session.

“I try to look at progress within the session, within that hour,” said Weissberger. “There is a lot of information in how they are playing music. Are they invested in the music they are playing?” He asked.

(Video from Berko Music Therapy YouTube, Drum Circle for Stress Relief and Mental Health Awareness at a University)

Over the phone, Weissberger described starting a session with a client who may be agitated or falling asleep and slowing noticing their attitude change as the session progresses. Not only is there an improvement in behavior, Weissberger talked about how his clients can become more “engaged or more sophisticated in the music.”

Where communication isn’t obtainable through words, it may be possible with music.

Weisberger talked about clients are in a deep state of depression and confused, and may be looking at the ceiling or the floor, rocking back and forth. Many times it is close to impossible to engage these clients and have meaningful conversations, but through music therapy, they are able to play instruments and be engaged in that way, he said.

Jamie Sacca, who is a music therapist at a preschool with children who have developmental disabilities and autism, also helps students through music.

At the preschool, Sacca works mainly in small or large groups, depending on the need of the students.

Many students enter the program as young as two years old and Sacca is able to see their skills strengthen over the years.

“I can see their growth and I can see them engaging,” said Sacca, “generalizing skills and crossing over modalities elsewhere.”

For the best treatment students are assessed to determine what method of music therapy will be most beneficial to them.

Cindi Parise, who is a physical education and dance teacher at Manhattanville College and who also developed a dance program for physical education is able to see the positive effects of dance and music on mental health. 

“Even children who are bipolar, they leave with a smile on their face,” said Parise, about students who participate in dance education.  

About Deborah Cardoso 2 Articles
Deborah is a multimedia journalist. She has a passion for storytelling and getting people to open up to her. She enjoys everything popular culture, from music to fashion and everything in between.