Music Therapy by Jessica Hiemstra

Jessica Hiemstra
Jessica Hiemstra

Music Therapy by Jessica Hiemstra

Our guest blogger today, Jessica Hiemstra, writes about a topic dear to my heart.  As a chaplain intern at Providence Hospital (, I found music extremely helpful in ministering to non-verbal patients.  Young children, advanced Alzheimer’s patients, and people under stress respond to music in ways that can at times be dramatic. Jessica is a music student (see details below) and discusses music therapy in ministering to a student with autism.

Music Therapy

Two years ago I got an email out of the blue forwarded from my band director. It mentioned a woman seeking someone with musical skill to work with her son who has autism. At that point I was heavily involved with music and I love working with people so I decided to contact her and began working with her son. What a blessing this has turned out to be.


Her son, Michael [1], had difficulty communicating especially with someone he did not know, yet once I started to sing a song he knew (at his pace) he would sing along. The goal of each session was to get Michael to interact as much as possible through singing. At first he would sing the main word in the phrase of the song, but as time progressed, he was singing every word of every song with me.

Varying Routine

During the second summer I was determined to bring in new songs and chants. At that point, I was only singing songs in major keys (such as Mary Had a Little Lamb and Jingle Bells). Later, I decided to introduce songs in a different mode similar to minor (This Train is Bound for Glory and the Ants Go Marching). We then added chants with hand motions. At first I would just sing them to him so he could hear how they sounded and only a few days later he was already singing them with me and doing the hand motions.


As the second summer progressed, Michael’s behavior changed both in and out of the music session. Initially, it took the first five minutes for him to stop running around the house and to be seated, ready for music. By the end he was inviting me into the room saying “music!” as he recognized that when I came over it was time for singing. He would also say “all done!” when we finished singing a song, and by the last session of the second summer, he gave me a hug. The transformation from being just his music therapist to being someone he trusted enough to give a hug. This was far beyond any other reward I could ever be given.


Jessica Hiemstra is currently a student at the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University ( working towards her Bachelor of Music degree in clarinet performance and music education. She loves sharing Christ through her teaching as well as with those around her on campus. Also, she is a leader in the River, the Peabody Christian Fellowship, and is active in sharing the Gospel on campus outside of organized fellowship. She hopes to teach both in the schools and privately in the future, while still remaining active in the church and in advancing the Gospel.

1/ Michael is a pseudonym.


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