VCFA 2012 Winter Newsletter

Page 12


Keisha Slaughter listens closely as her patient, a sixteen-year-old girl diagnosed with severe clinical depression, begins to sing. Slaughter takes notes, jotting down information that is both clinical and musical. She’s not just a therapist, she’s a music therapist, and she’s helping this patient rework her song in preparation for a December showcase. Recently transplanted from New Orleans to Landsdowne, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia, Slaughter has spent the last several months working in two residential treatment facilities for teenagers with troubled histories. Most of Slaughter’s patients have diagnoses of psychological and behavioral disorders. Her goal is to teach the teens skills that will help them safely return to their families and function in their communities. A member of the inaugural class in the Music Composition program, Slaughter chose VCFA because she wanted a place that would allow her to “focus on areas of composition that suited my musical interests and aligned with my personal and professional goals.” In just a few short months, Slaughter has found just that. Although her MFA work is currently focused on her own music—music that has its roots in the jazz and gospel of her legendary home town—Slaughter finds that she can’t help but bring her own musical development into her daily work as a music therapist. She marries her growing musical knowledge with professional mental health consultation, using her patients’ attraction to and innate love for music to help them process their complicated situations. Slaughter guides at-risk teens “to think critically about the circumstances that have led them to placement” in the facility. Her focus is on returning her patients to their families, but she’s finding that her work with them might lead to something more.

© Sarah Madru

Many of Slaughter’s patients continue to express their newly found musical voices once they leave the group home. Slaughter remembers one particularly shy boy: “He had a lot of developmental delays, and he never thought he could write. A month after he was discharged, he told me he was still writing and rapping. The sense of pride that music gave him was significant. It was