Alumni, Campus wide, Music, Music Therapy

Connecting through creative arts

By Jan Joslin | July 20, 2021
CSU alum Catherine Nielsen leads a drum circle for students of all abilities in a school setting.
Catherine Nielsen leads a drum circle for students of all abilities in a school setting. Photo provided

Catherine Compton Nielsen, MT-BC ‘03 and her entrepreneurial husband, Chris Nielsen, started The Palm Beach Music Therapy Institute, LLC in 2007. In 2019, they changed the name to Creative Arts Therapies of the Palm Beaches. Cat and Chris and their three children, Penelope, Grover, and Heidi, live in Palm Beach County, Florida. 

She said, “I am so grateful that CSU introduced me to the field that I love. My hope is that Creative Arts Therapies of the Palm Beaches can continue the legacy of serving others that CSU so faithfully still teaches today.”

Music Is Medicine

I grew up in a small town in the mountains, Berea, Kentucky. There was always music in our home. My mom was a music education major, mother of five, and played the piano and organ at church ever since I can remember. My dad was a family practice doctor, who besides caring for most of the families who lived in the town, saving lives, would sing to his patients. 

To me, music is medicine. It is something that connects people. 

The first time I heard about music therapy as a profession was at CSU. I was taking a tour of the campus and shared with the admissions counselor that I had interest in psychology, teaching, music, and the medical field. That day, the admissions counselor let me know there was an entire degree program for music therapy. My time studying music therapy at CSU was life changing for me. 

Connecting Through Music and Creative Arts

One of the deepest needs of each one of us is connection. As the brain develops, there are critical neurological pathways that develop due to connection through interaction with others. Music is something that can reach people. It is a “universal language.” 

Music therapy is based on a connection that is made with people through music. 

Faith and Purpose

One of the greatest privileges is to find something to give your life to that has purpose – something that matters. For each person that may be something different. I think faith can help you find that purpose. For me, my faith is about loving and serving others. That is what creative arts therapies are about.

Charleston Southern University alumna Catherine Compton Nielsen, MT-BC ‘03 started The Palm Beach Music Therapy Institute, LLC in 2007 along with her husband.
Charleston Southern University alumna Catherine Compton Nielsen, MT-BC ‘03 started The Palm Beach Music Therapy Institute, LLC in 2007 along with her husband. Photo provided

Opening a Business

I graduated from CSU in 2003 after my music therapy internship in Palm Beach, Florida, at Hospice of Palm Beach County. In my time at hospice, I developed a love of bringing comfort to people at the end of life. The hospice philosophy of palliative care (comfort care), caring for the whole person, not just their medical needs, was exactly where I wanted to be. I worked in a program that offered music therapy, art therapy, spiritual support, compassionate medical staff, and even pet therapy. This made a lasting impact on me. It was incredible to see what was possible when a creative team works with the medical team to provide such comprehensive and compassionate care for the patient and their families.

After my internship with hospice, I decided to stay in Palm Beach County. At the time there weren’t any full-time music therapy positions available in the area. Since one of my other interests is working with children, for two years, I worked as a preschool teacher at a private preschool. 

My love of working in both educational and medical settings is what made me decide to start my own practice. 

Touching the Community Through Creative Arts

For me, private practice in music therapy started with a program at a preschool, and at hospice, offering music therapy to the patients, the staff, and their families.

With the support of my family, friends and community, the creative arts therapies professionals that joined me began to grow. Thanks to creative arts therapists who began working with me, soon we were working not only in hospice and schools, but using music for team building at corporations, community groups, recovery programs for substance abuse, mental health facilities, special needs organizations, hospitals, cancer centers, trauma groups, and senior centers.

Bringing Health and Wellness to Others

The most rewarding part of music therapy for me is to be able to use music to bring health and wellness to people. This work is also rewarding because you meet so many incredible people. I have been working as a music therapist for 14 years now. I am amazed at how much there is to learn from others. It is such an honor to meet people from birth to age 100 and be able to learn something from each of them.

Something I love about music therapy is that no matter the age, race, abilities, level of health and wellness, or background of a person, music can meet them where they are.

Music is able to bring out creativity, connection, motivation, and comfort to both people who are healthy and those with physical, medical, emotional, or mental health challenges. 

At CATPB I have seen people who have been through a brain injury and have lost speech learn to sing. I have worked with Alzheimers or dementia patients who may not be able to remember names or faces, but during music therapy they are able to sing every word to a familiar song. Children who have lost a loved one may not be able to talk about their grief, but if you give them a paint brush, or a drum, or write a song with them, they express their thoughts and feelings about the loss. There are more stories every day about how music can reach someone. 

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