||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
Faculty, Students Introduce
Music Therapy Program at Jail
MAILED: Nov. 5, 1997|
EAU CLAIRE -- While Lee Anna Rasar has 20 years of experience using dance therapeutically in various settings, even she wasn't expecting the response she got from women inmates at the Eau Claire County jail.
"Within seconds, they were all smiling broadly," Rasar said of the women inmates she and student volunteers interacted with to determine the effectiveness of using dance and movement to music to help in the areas of social behavior, emotional expression, stress and anger management, and physical fitness.
"It's unusual for these women to smile, much less continuously. At one point, they were giggling so much that a guard came in to check to make sure everything was all right."
The smiles are typical for other groups she has worked with but she was unsure if the inmates - many of whom suffer from a range of stress-related health problems - would react in a similar manner given their circumstances, said Rasar, associate professor of allied health professions at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
"The women in jail were so depressed that I wasn't sure this would work for them," Rasar said. "But it was the neatest thing to see that within 30 seconds, every one of them had a big smile on their face."
After each session, the women reported on a post-test to be feeling relaxed, energized, having hope for the future, and feeling happy, Rasar said. The same women had reported on a pre-test feeling depressed, stressed and hopeless before the sessions, she said.
"It's good doing these exercises," one inmate wrote on her evaluation of the program. "I feel a lot better after doing them. If I'm tired or sad, these dances make me happy. Music helped us realize our feelings and made us happy to exercise."
"Every single woman every day made positive comments," Rasar said. "That was amazing to me. And the same changes occurred for each woman, individually, every time we did this. This indicates they had true responses to the physical activity."
"You could see it in their faces," Joni Olson, a UW-Eau Claire senior music therapy major, said of the women's positive reaction. "They would look tired when they got there but once they got going, their faces would light up. They'd be smiling and laughing as they danced."
For Olson, the project was a chance to work with a population that she had not interacted with in the past.
"I benefited a lot from the experience," Olson said, noting that after she graduates in May she hopes to work with music therapy with children or the elderly in schools or a nursing home. "Even if I don't work with this population again, I have an idea of what's it like and that can only help me."
Initially, she said, some of the inmate were skeptical as to their motives for coming to the jail. "They were a little leery at first. I had one woman say that she wouldn't do it if she were in my position," Olson said. "But, once they realized why we were there, they relaxed and it went well. They really got into it."
Women had the option of participating but every one available attended each time it was offered, Rasar said. "They all chose to come," she said. "Everyone of them came every time. Even when they were sick, they would come and sit by the wall to watch."
Rasar and UW-Eau Claire students Olson and Karlina Mahle spent four hours weekly for four weeks leading the dance therapy sessions this summer in addition to participating in two music therapy sessions weekly and one video session weekly. During music therapy sessions, the women planned their own stress management tapes which the music therapy student later prepared for them to take home and use after their release.
"The nurse at the jail told me that the women had a lot of physical problems, most of which were because of stress," Rasar said, adding that the jail nurse told her 90 percent of the women's physical problems were related to stress. "Many of these women are in jail but have kids so they're worried about their children and future jobs, they're living in a small space, and they have limited interaction with others."
The general state of their physical and mental health was characterized by anxiety, agitation, stress, lethargy, fatigue, sleep disturbance, cardiovascular problems, lack of coping skills, altered thought processes, and weight gain. Headaches, hives, asthma and other respiratory complications, cardiovascular difficulties, and acne are common stress-related ailments seen in this population.
Among the areas targeted by Rasar and her students for study were determining the effectiveness of using dance and movement to reduce stress/muscle tension; initiate verbal and social interaction; develop an interest in general physical fitness; and channel emotional expression into safe and healthy outlets of expression.
The jail had a formal exercise program for the male inmates but nothing for the females, Rasar said. The nurse at the jail reported a decrease in medical needs among the females as a result of the dance sessions, she said.
In addition to the structured group dance session, Rasar and the students also created stress management tapes for each individual inmate. The dance and movement to music programs included on the tapes were tailored to meet the needs of each individual, Rasar said.
"Some needed a tape to help them calm down when they are agitated or angry, some wanted it just for exercise or emotional support," said Rasar, who received UW-Eau Claire's Excellence in Service Award in 1997.
When selecting music, Rasar said she and students chose a variety of cultural dances to teach the women. They were careful to select dance steps paired to specific songs that none of the women knew to avoid separating the women who knew the dance from those who did not, Rasar said, noting that the women were of various ethnic backgrounds.
"We used music to talk about different cultures," Rasar said. "We stayed away from stylized dances choreographed to specific songs that people know. We were using the music for exercise so we didn't want to create an us vs. them mentality among those who knew it and could perform it well and those who didn't and couldn't."
Among the challenges when selecting the music was finding things that would give the women the needed exercise without forcing them to overextend themselves, Rasar said.
"The music was really a perfect mix for them," Rasar said. "When they were tired and out of breath, we slowed it down for them. It was the right combination of dance steps."
They also tried to help the women find positive messages in many of the songs, Rasar said. For example, when they played "On the Road Again," they used a freedom step for women from an Eastern European folk dance and then talked about freedom and the opportunities that were ahead after jail, she said.
When the formal sessions ended, Rasar was pleased to be told by the women that they continued the exercise program on their own in their cells. And many of those who were released from jail since the program have been in touch to get music or referrals, Rasar said. "They took ownership in it," she said of the dance program.
Rasar and the students plan to present their findings at the newly formed American Music Therapy Association in 1998. They also may present the information during a UW System conference.
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Nov. 5, 1997