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But it wasn’t until the 1990s that the two practices merged. Now there are 45 certified hospice music therapists in the Twin Cities.
That won’t be enough, according to Russell Hilliard, the nation’s first professional hospice music therapist.
“If you look at the trajectory of dementia alone, the need is going to be exponential,” said Hilliard, vice president of supportive care and patient experience at Chicago-based Seasons Hospice Foundation. “Knowing that music therapy reaches patients with advanced dementia better than anything else, I’m genuinely concerned with whether we will have enough therapists.”
But the job is a difficult one, because it revolves around connecting with people who are struggling and, in most cases, likely to die soon.
“Obviously, the emotional intensity of the work can be really challenging, kind of being immersed in somebody else’s world and space,” Newberry said. “We certainly have ups and downs.”
But for Newberry, the headaches and heartaches are far outweighed by the rewards.
“There can be a lot of pain and struggling, but also a lot of beautiful things,” she said. “One of my favorite experiences is to be with someone within a day or two of dying. It’s just me and that person, and it just feels really peaceful — it feels like there’s a spiritual power in the room.”
Follow Bill Ward on Twitter: @billward4