music therapist

Music therapist Forrest Paquin, right, spends several days each week at UH Geauga working alongside doctors and nurses like oncologist Dr. Judah Friedman, left, helping patients as they heal.

As a music therapist serving University Hospitals of Cleveland’s Geauga and Portage medical centers, Forrest Paquin provides patients with stress management techniques and healthy ways to cope with pain in conjunction with interactive musical performances. Ms. Paquin sees about 150 patients each month and said that she finds joy in helping others discover music as a source of relief.

“Music’s always been a therapeutic tool in my childhood, dealing with a chronic disease,” she said. “It’s always been a drive for me to help others through music.

“Getting music therapy training and getting to work here at UH Geauga with patients, I find comfort and also joy in that,” she added.

Ms. Paquin began her career in New York as a performer. She said she acted in an antiviolence musical for children throughout the New York area and was part of a band. She sings and plays the guitar, violin and percussion instruments.

Her New York experiences continue to aid her in her current role as a music therapist.

“It made me who I am today in a way,” Ms. Paquin said. “It really exposed me to different populations, whether that was just in day to day life or also going into the schools and working with children. New York City’s a big city, and I would say a lot of my life experiences [there] drew me to music therapy.”

After her time in New York, Ms. Paquin attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, to earn a bachelor’s degree in music therapy with a minor in psychology.

Ms. Paquin joined the UH Connor Integrative Health Network in 2017 and developed the music therapy programs at UH Geauga and Portage medical centers. The UH Connor Integrative Health Network provides alternative, non-pharmacologic therapies such as music therapy, art therapy, acupuncture and guided imagery. 

University Hospitals has become a leader in the incorporation of non-pharmacological treatment for patients, Ms. Paquin said, integrating therapies as part of the comprehensive care they provide.

“University Hospitals is really leading in the field of providing non-pharmacological therapies, especially within a clinical setting,” Ms. Paquin explained. “It’s still pretty new, but at the same time, it’s progressing pretty fast because of the research, of course, and the feedback from patients and medical staff.”

When working with patients, Ms. Paquin plays songs that the patients request, but typically at a slower tempo and lower pitch to help them feel calm and relaxed. She also shared how she worked with patients to write a song with lyrics that helped them feel positive about their recovery process.

“I’ll integrate some mindfulness techniques usually with a focus of either a guided breathing technique or some imagery and integrate those skills into the music,” Ms. Paquin said of the one-on-one sessions she does with patients, which can last 15 minutes to an hour.

While she may be called in to help with patients who are feeling momentary stress due to procedures, Ms. Paquin regularly interacts with patients who have cancer or behavioral health problems and those in hospice, all of whom may experience a more extended period of illness-related stress.

Reanna Francis, a nurse practitioner at UH Geauga, said that patients often report their pain as at least two points lower after Ms. Paquin visits them. She added that music therapy at the hospital also functions as a therapeutic tool to meet progress goals for patients who have longer recoveries. There are music therapy groups within their behavioral unit to meet patients’ needs to cope, have a sense of control and express themselves, both verbally and non-verbally.

“There’s more to us than pills can fix,” Ms. Francis said of the importance of integrating therapy as a part of treatment. “We have a spiritual side, and a lot of times I’m seeing patients who are unfortunately in pain, who are anxious, who have lost control, they’ve got this disease, they can’t control it and the disease has taken over. I consult Forrest to help with spiritual support. Not religious support, but spiritual support. And the use of music changes your perception of everything.”

Ms. Paquin also provides therapeutic support to hospital staff at both the Geauga and Portage locations, such as through a monthly relaxation room where staff can spend a few minutes during their shift. She added that she tries to help as many people as she can incorporate music therapy into their lives.

“I say to my patients, we all have a heartbeat, right? Our heartbeat, our breath, our steps as we walk – that’s all rhythm. We all have rhythm and music in us,” Ms. Paquin said.

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