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Pilot combines speech-language therapy and music

Innovative Christchurch treatment pilot combines speech-language therapy and music therapy

“Songs and music are processed in a different area of the brain than speech and while people living with the effects of a stroke can't speak, they may be able to sing."


Christchurch allied health services provider Therapy Professionals has been awarded a contract to run a pilot programme designed to improve and maintain vocal function for people living with impaired neurological function.

Inspired by Auckland's CeleBRation Choir and the latest findings about the role of music in rehabilitation, the Christchurch pilot adds a speech-language component to accelerate and boost the benefits of stand-alone music therapy.

Therapy Professionals general manager Shonagh O'Hagan says a growing body of scientific evidence from biomedical research is showing singing may help to ‘rewire’ the brain after neurological injury while also restoring verbal communication skills through improved breath control, perception, and timing of speech.

"Songs and music are processed in a different area of the brain than speech and while many people living with the effects of a stroke can't speak, they may be able to sing,” says O'Hagan.

“In people with neurological conditions, singing can help improve their concentration, speech, organisation of thoughts, and formation of coherent sentences."

Shallow breathing is a common experience for people living with Parkinson's disease, usually resulting in diminished vocal strength, weaker speech muscles, and loss of co-ordination of the muscles involved in speech production. O'Hagan explains that singing helps co-ordinate these muscles, strengthening the voice and improving the sound that's produced. It also provides an expressive outlet for feelings of anger and frustration.

“When you combine all these benefits you may see improvements in confidence, self-esteem and motivation, which are important factors in enhancing the prospect of rehabilitation."

Assembling regularly as a group creates the opportunity for choir members to gain support and be in regular contact with people experiencing similar health issues.

This social dynamic provides a very positive experience and can assist with the healing process, O'Hagan says.

“Singing is also a useful way of addressing the common difficulty of getting people to participate fully in their own rehabilitation. We know there are barriers to doing vocal exercises regularly at home and that many people lapse, however singing is an enjoyable way to practice."

The 10-week pilot is funded by Music Therapy New Zealand and has already attracted interest from 28 people with neurological conditions who have heard about the choir primarily from health professionals in the Canterbury District Health Board, the Multiple Sclerosis & Parkinson's Society, and the Stroke Foundation.


Therapy Professionals was established in 1997 with its origins in a well-established physiotherapy practice founded in 1985. It provides a comprehensive range of allied health services, including physiotherapy, speech language therapy, occupational therapy, music therapy and dietetics to the elderly and across the lifespan of people living with intellectual and physical disabilities. The therapists work in schools, rest homes, community care homes, aged care hospitals, as well with private individuals. Therapy Professionals holds contracts to provide exercise classes to Arthritis New Zealand and exercise classes and communication classes to the Stroke Foundation. The Auckland CeleBRation Choir is run by a music therapist for people with neurological conditions including stroke or Parkinson’s disease.

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