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StoriesAki Ohmae ’12

Using Music Therapy to Assist the Elderly in Japan

For Aki, a master's degree led to a career as a music therapist in Tokyo, Japan.

elderly hands playing a piano

Aki Ohmae ’12 has been studying music and playing the piano since she was four years old. Not wanting to be a performer, she decided to use her talent, skill, and education to help people. She came to the United States from Japan as an undergraduate student at Michigan State University, and continued her studies here at Lesley in our Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Music Therapy graduate program.

A year after graduation, Aki returned to her home country and joined Medical Corporation Tatsuoka—a health care services company that operates five residential facilities in Tokyo for the elderly—as a full-time professional music therapist and activity coordinator. She works with about 90 people who live at one of the facilities, most of whom are 70–90 years old, and another 20 people who participate in its day program.

Aki tells us about her role and how her graduate education has helped her in her career working with people with a range of diagnoses, from broken bones to stroke to dementia.

What does a typical day look like in your job?

Each week, I plan, lead, and evaluate about 4–5 group music therapy sessions and 1–2 individual sessions. Each of my sessions has an objective, such as increasing my clients’ verbal communication, and I plan activities that support that goal.

For example, I’ll ask questions about the song we are about to sing—getting them to talk about the singers or memories they have about the song. Then, we sing the song together with my piano accompaniment. If the goal is to improve the clients’ cognitive skills, I might choose a song that the clients can play on the hand bells and ask them to ring the bells only when I give them visual cues. I also coordinate activities for the clients in our day program.

What do you like most about your job?

I like this job because I often see my clients looking forward to my music therapy sessions, and I can feel the connections we are building through music. I especially feel happy that some clients who are often nervous or anxious show less nervousness and anxiety, and actually smile, during the group sessions.

How did your graduate program in music therapy at Lesley University prepare you for your job?

My first-year clinical internship at an elderly facility helped me to gain confidence in working with the elderly population, for sure.

Also, my company president encourages us music therapists to conduct research and present at conferences, so the research and presentation skills I got in the program help me in my work. I would also say the Supervision class was the one that helped me the most in my current job. I learned how to work with other staff members and build connections with clients.

Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking about getting a degree in music therapy?

Most music therapy students probably have a preference for a specific population that they want to work with, but I believe that gaining more confidence and experience in working with variety of populations is important.

For international students, getting a degree in music therapy in the U.S. is not easy, especially in a second language. I struggled through undergraduate and graduate school—it took me a long time to finish assignments, and at first, I had difficulty communicating with clients and staff members. However, when you complete the degree and overcome the difficulties, you’ll be closer to a career as a professional music therapist.

Also, completing the degree in two or three years can be very hard, so ask for help from your classmates and professors so you can work through the experience together.