Music Therapist Goes the Distance for Maryville’s Girls

Dalphne Sommario, a Board Certified Music Therapist, works with girls at the Bartlett Campus.
Dalphne Sommario, a Board Certified Music Therapist, works with girls at the Bartlett Campus.

A resident of the Lawndale neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, Dalphne Sommario travels more than 200 miles every week to work with the young women at Maryville’s suburban Bartlett Campus. “Depending on traffic and weather conditions, the trip can range from 1 hour to 2 ½ hours each way,” Dalphne said. “If I take a train from Union Station, that’s an hour-long ride each way.” What inspires a city girl to journey to the far-flung suburbs twice a week?

It’s her absolute, all-consuming love of music — a gift that Dalphne shares with the residents of Maryville’s Casa Salama, Casa Carino and Casa Imani homes. Most of the young women (ages 13-21) at our Bartlett Campus are in DCFS care. The vast majority of them have survived childhood trauma or abuse. Some have learning or emotional disabilities. Some are parenting small children of their own.

Yet, when Dalphne, a Board Certified Music Therapist, visits with them, they can be creative and joyful as they learn to heal.

“Music Therapy allows those afraid to speak, or those without a voice, the ability to be heard, whether with their own vibrations, voice, movements, or music,” Dalphne said. “Music touches everyone. The waves, the emotions, the beat, the mood – it reaches everyone, even the deaf, even those that ‘don’t care’ for music.”

Music therapy has become a vital component of the specialized treatment and mental health services Maryville provides for residents of the Bartlett Campus. These sessions allow the girls to express complex feelings and develop coping skills to deal with fear, stress and anxiety. The Music Therapy program has been funded by grants from the Hanover Township Mental Health Board since 2012.

Dalphne uses music and musical activities to increase self-awareness, self-exploration and self-expression, and to foster creativity within a social structure. “In most of the residential homes, many of the girls find it difficult to create and respond to positive interactions and friendships,” Dalphne said. “Most of my sessions focus on the vital skills that allow the girls to interact appropriately in social situations. These include focus, memory, teamwork and eye contact.”

Dalphne also emphasizes the importance of repetition in playing music or developing other abilities. “In order to learn anything, one must practice and repeat over and over again,” she said. “Many of the girls don’t understand this concept and how it transfers to everyday interactions and skills. In my sessions, we constantly speak about the importance of repetition and routine in learning.”

In music therapy sessions, certain interventions can bring about feelings of frustration and sadness. “Many of the students don’t want to ask for help and feel bad about themselves when they are not able to repeat a particular melody or rhythm,” Dalphne said. “In these instances, we talk about self-acceptance and the fact that we all are human and it’s OK to ask for help. This can turn into discussions about peer pressure or low self-esteem.”

Each week the young women take part in individual and/or group singing sessions. They analyze lyrics, write their own songs, dance and play the guitar. They also learn about different styles of music and might even add a game of Musical Bingo to the mix.

In the therapy sessions, songs preferred by the participants are augmented with songs Dalphne chooses to teach the girls how music can affect mood and behavior. Popular songs are used to spark discussions on struggles and stressors, coping with anxiety, healing from past trauma, hope, inspiration, and building self-confidence. They also are used to demonstrate how music works through meaning, pitch, melody, harmony, duration, and rhythm, which helps the young women learn how to create their own music.  In 2015, drumming and the drum circle were also introduced as part of the music therapy sessions.

Dalphne has more than 10 years of experience in providing music therapy to adults with autism, seniors in nursing homes, hospitalized children and adults, and special needs students. A graduate of Indiana University, she holds degrees in clarinet performance and psychology and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in school counseling.

“I was born to do this,” she said. “As a young girl, I hid behind my clarinet because I had self-esteem issues. I understand why many musicians live that way. But music therapy is active, it’s not passive. In the sessions, even though there may be a listening activity or a meditation, we are engaged and working toward a goal.”

Above all, Dalphne recognizes that music therapy is a tool through which she can reach Maryville’s young women. “Music can allow people to express themselves and it can provide comfort when you are feeling alone. It’s powerful and it’s available to anyone…it really is limitless.”

And as for the long and winding road Dalphne has to travel to deliver that music? “I love working with the girls so much, even if Bartlett were farther away (from my home), I think I would still do it!”  

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