Katie Sanders, the Fort Carson Warrior Recovery Center (WRC) music therapist, sings a song while playing the piano as her patient fills in the lyrics on a sheet of paper. A podcast plays in the background as a distraction from her tune – a mindfulness strategy often used for patients who have experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
The WRC provides eight different rehabilitation services, including music therapy, for active-duty service members, veterans and Family members over the age of 18 who receive a referral from their primary care manager or behavioral health provider.
Sanders hosts individual and group music therapy sessions for TBI patients or those experiencing symptoms related to concussions.
“Human beings are inherently musical,” said Sanders. “Rhythm is a big part of our life, and it’s really good for the recovery process because you use a lot of different areas of your brain to process music.”
Creative Forces, a program supported by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine, is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts Military Healing Arts Network and designed to promote health, wellness and quality of life through creative arts.
The three creative arts programs offered at the WRC include music therapy, art therapy and dance movement therapy. Each program operates in clinical and community capacities for group and individual sessions.
Most clinical sessions focus on active-duty service members and veterans, while community programing aims to assist Family members. Sanders strives to ensure all her patients receive the care they need.
“I love working with people to create positive change,” said Sanders. “It’s fascinating being part of this field. As a musician, I’ve seen the power of music firsthand and I was drawn to it.”
With an undergraduate degree in music and business, Sanders decided to return to school to earn
a certificate in neurologic music therapy, which included the completion of a 1,000-hour internship. Sanders was required to be proficient in guitar, piano and voice as a certified music therapist, but her musical talents stretch far beyond those skills.
She plays more than a dozen instruments, including the bass, ukulele, cello and percussion, but the clarinet and saxophone have always been her main instruments. These instruments, and many others, are available to play during clinical sessions and patients are encouraged to rent them out and practice at home.
Clinical music therapy sessions focus on lyric analysis and songwriting, music-assisted relaxation, auditory preferences and music performance. Individual sessions are designed to develop the cognitive and emotional goals of human functioning that cater to a patient’s specific needs while group sessions focus on the social aspect of music therapy.
Group sessions through the Integrative Rehabilitation Outpatient Course (IROC) include activities such as yoga and instrumental performances to strengthen psychological, social and cognitive wellness.
Every Monday, Sanders hosts a virtual group jam session in the morning and an introduction to guitar course with the Fort Carson Soldier Readiness Unit (SRU) in the afternoon.
“When I see people get into the zone, I know they are practicing mindfulness,” said Sanders. “They aren’t thinking about other things – they aren’t worried about anything.”
In May, Sanders also began hosting a virtual meditation session for the Evans Army Community Hospital (EACH) staff every Monday. Staff can tune in for a 15-minute, guided meditation session and listen as Sanders plays instrumental music with a reverie harp or a Hand Activated Percussion Instrument (HAPI) drum.
“The hospital staff are working really hard, everyone is really busy, and it’s nice to have a break in the day just to breathe a little bit and take a step back,” said Sanders.
Construction for a new WRC/TBI facility, the Intrepid Spirit Center, will begin in April and the WRC is expected to occupy the new facility in spring 2022.
U.S. Public Health Service Capt. Alicia Souvignier, the WRC director, oversees the mission of all outpatient medical and rehabilitative services for the WRC/TBI clinic.
“We are all one clinic with multiple disciplines,” said Souvignier, noting the Neurology, Behavioral Health, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, and Speech Pathology departments. “(The Intrepid Spirit Center) allows us to expand our scope to include more treatment for chronic pain.”
Outside the clinical capacity, the WRC coordinates art experiences with the Military Arts Connection program as a part of its community outreach. Active-duty service members, veterans and Family members are encouraged to sign up for guitar lessons and other creative arts lessons through militaryartsconnection.org.
“You don’t have to be perfect,” said Sanders. “Sometimes it’s the enjoyment of being able to sit down and play for fun.”