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Ask the Rock Doc:
Sound Advice for a Song
By psychologist, Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, Ph.D.,
Aka Dr BLT

* Details contained in the original correspondence, or inquiry have been omitted or otherwise altered to protect the confidentiality of the inquiring party and to make key spiritual/psychological points. 

Dear Doc BLT:

I noticed that you do an advice column for musicians in distress and family members and friends of musicians in distress.  How about if Iím a family member in distress over a musician son who wastes all of his time playing music?

I took my son, Baron out of school because they said he was autistic and they were trying to take him away from the basics, and put him on a program that was littered with art and polluted by musical activities.  They failed to recognize that heís got the brain of a reptile.  Reptiles donít do music.  They donít get it.  All they can do is respond to their environment with stereotyped behaviors that enable them to respond reflexively to clear and present dangers in the environment.  Heís retarded, and heíll always be retarded.  Donít get me wrong, I love him, but, unlike those ostriches in the school system, I donít stick my head in the sand and I donít push him beyond his abilities.  

Still, even though I emphasize basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills, in his home-schooling program, his mind is always on music.  Would you be able to offer some advice on how I can get him to pay attention to the basics, and put music on the back burner?

Sorry, I donít believe in God and I donít believe in miracles either.  Thatís why I hesitated to contact you, but your advice column is free, consultation at the local shrinkís office would cost me dearly.

(No Ostrich Am I)

Dear Noami:

I donít believe that you approached me simply because of the cost-benefits to you.  If youíve read my columns you are already painfully aware of the two things I believe in that I am most passionate about.  I believe in music, and I believe in miracles.  I believe in God and I believe that faith can move mountains.  Secretly, you may want to trade in your disbelief for belief.  This applies to your hesitation when it comes to the benefits of music for your son, and it just may also apply to your reluctance to have faith in the grand operatic conductor I call God. 

The philosophical, Pythagoras, colossal in his impact on Western thought, was also a believer in music.  I believe he believed in God too.  Pythagoras believed music to be the highest form of learning.  To borrow from an old 70ís hit by Mac Davis, ďI Believe in Music.Ē  I believe in music for the typical child learner, and I believe in music for those children who suffer, and who are challenged by from some sort of brain damage or deficit.  Before becoming a psychologist, I worked as a music therapist.  Now that I am a psychologist, I work as a music therapist.  I emphasize music in my work with patients, and I incorporate music in my work with university students. 

Carolyn Phillips wrote ďThe Twelve Benefits of Music Education.Ē  She is correct in indicating that musical training helps develop brain areas that are involved in language and ability.  Whatever the cause and whatever the factors are that are contributing to your son, Baronís learning difficulties, can be met head-on, and resolved, at least in part, through music.

Thereís something that must be proclaimed before I begin to speak of miracles.  Something great is happening in the field of neuropsychology.  Neuropsychologists used to be decidedly more pessimistic than they are now.  They now have more reason to be optimistic when it comes to brain damage and brain dysfunction.  In his book, ďThe Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science,Ē Dr. Norman Doidge discusses the phenomenon of ďneuroplasiticity.Ē  That is a phenomenon in which, over time, the damaged brain heals itself, and/or finds ways to bounce back from trauma and ostensibly function-threatening injury.   He says that neuroplasiticity is ďthe most important change in our understanding of the brain in 400 years.Ē  Most of todayís neuroscientists would undoubtedly agree.

For those of us who call ourselves believers, it is God that has endowed the brain with such self-corrective, self-healing properties. 

Music can be instrumental (pun intended) in furthering the self-corrective predilection of the brain.  By the same token, faith can be instrumental in furthering the healing process.

You have woefully limited your son, by reducing his brain functioning to that of a reptile.  The fact that he is naturally drawn towards music suggests that his brain is rewarded by it. 

Because his brain is rewarded by it, it will use music to strengthen its own level of functioning and it will draw from music as it seeks to heal itself.  

We all have brain structures such as a brain stem, a cerebellum, and a hypothalamus.  That doesnít make any of us reptiles.  Each of us has a limbic system, one that regulates emotional states within and links the basic survival drives of lower brain regions with higher cortical functions.  Steven G. Feifer and Pilip A. De Fina do a great job of explaining the relationship between the so-called ďreptilianĒ brain and the neocortex in their book, The Neuropsychology of Reading Disorders.Ē 

Perhaps it looks to you like your son is only capable of accessing the lower brain centers because he is not receiving enough stimulation in the higher regions of the brain.  Perhaps your sonís cortex has been damaged.  I donít know.  I havenít tested him, and I havenít studied the tests other professionals may have administered.

But to deprive him of music---an experience that hold great promise as a restorative element in your sonís recovery, is, a travesty. 

I canít tell you that you should believe in God.  That decision is not up to me, and Iím not here to force my faith you on.  But I can tell you through personal experience and through observation of countless others, faith in God can lead to miracles.  Expect nothing less than this for your son: a miracle is waiting to happen.  Donít stand in the way of the miracle and donít stop the music.

Take it from me, Dr BLT.

*If youíre a musician in distress, or a concerned friend or relative of one, contact me, Dr BLT at drblt@drblt.net  

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