Berklee Student, Alumni Aim to Help Veterans Heal Through Music
Through active partnerships and the dedicated work of students and alumni, Berklee’s Music Therapy Department has forged meaningful connections with many of the extraordinary people who have and currently serve in the military. Teaming up organizations like Nashville-based SongwritingWith:Soldiers and local nonprofit Home Base, Berklee's music therapy community continues to work towards the shared goal of providing free mental health resources for military-connected individuals.
Two individuals who wholeheartedly embody the spirit of this mission are student Adam Rosario and alumni Rebecca Vaudreuil B.M. ’08. Rosario is a retired first sergeant with over 20 years of active service in the Army, including combat tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Horn of Africa. After completing his degree in Music Therapy next year, Rosario will begin a music therapy internship with Creative Forces at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, where he’ll be working with service members and veterans. Vaudreuil, who received her board certification in 2009 after graduating Berklee, is lead music therapist and clinician supervisor for Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network, an initiative of National Endowment for the Arts, where she develops best practices, provides clinical and research mentorship, and supports increased access to creative arts therapies research across military and veteran healthcare systems. Her research has been featured by CNN, ABC, PBS, and in a White House blog.
As we celebrate our country’s veterans, active military, and their families on Veterans Day, we asked Rosario and Vaudreuil about their journeys in music therapy and why they feel it is such a powerful and necessary tool for helping veterans cope and heal.
This interview has been edited for length.
Adam, how did you become interested in music therapy? Rebecca, how did you come to pursue a career helping members of the military?
AR: I discovered music therapy during my transition from active duty to veteran status. I was searching for a career in music that would allow me to continue to serve the military-connected population—music therapy seemed like a good fit.
RV: I have worked as a music therapist with Creative Forces since 2014, and I am currently employed as their lead music therapist by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine. For the record, I am speaking today in my personal capacity. My views are my own and do not represent the opinion of the National Endowment for the Arts or the departments of Defense or Veterans Affairs.
Prior to joining Creative Forces, I worked with service members in the Greater San Diego area through a nonprofit organization called Resounding Joy. I started developing the concepts for their Semper Sound military music therapy program, now called Sounds of Service. In 2013, I expanded Semper Sound programming to the Greater Boston area, which provided practicum opportunities for Berklee music therapy students. After completing my master’s, I learned about the efforts of the NEA to support military-connected populations and have been part of this amazing network ever since.
Adam, what lessons from serving do you hope to bring with you when providing music therapy for fellow veterans?
AR: As a veteran, what I bring with me is tacit knowledge of military culture that can aid in establishing connections with my fellow veterans and developing music therapy interventions tailored to their specific needs. I also bring a deep sense of humility acquired through years of servant leadership.
Rebecca, you were one of the first music therapists to work with active-duty military experiencing traumatic brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder. How have you seen resources and availability of music therapy with military populations change (or not) since that time?
RV: When I started working with active duty, there were limited resources to assist in the development of my practice approaches. With the support of Creative Forces, there are now more music therapists working across the military healthcare system, and some are directly employed by the government. The publication of a book that I edited in 2021, Music Therapy with Military and Veteran Populations, which is a compilation of perspectives and experiences of pioneering subject matter experts from the creative arts therapies and the military, serves as a seminal text and resource. It was a huge accomplishment, and I hope it continues to inform the ongoing development of this work.
What effect do you feel music therapy can have on veterans and current members of the military dealing with mental health issues?
RV: Music experiences-at-large are effective in inspiring creative self-expression, providing a foundation for exploration of thoughts and feelings related to the past, present, and future, and offering different contexts for meaning-making and identity perception and (re)formation. With military-connected populations, there are many effective interventions that we use based on the clinical goals and unique needs of individuals. These include intentional listening to identify music/sound preferences and triggers, as well as music making (instrumental and vocal). The sociality of music is a critical concept in reducing isolation and amplifying engagement and reintegration. I have found that songwriting and music composition in particular supports healthy forms of expression, communication, and executive functioning. As a musician and music therapist, it is impactful and gratifying for me to assist others in finding their voice through music in a way that matches and expresses their feelings.
AR: There are many different music therapy methods, approaches, and techniques that can be effective in improving mental health. For veterans and service members, I feel that music therapy can be a welcome alternative to the standard “talk” therapy that has been stigmatized in military culture.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned at Berklee that you will or have carried forward into your career?
AR: The most important thing I’ve learned at Berklee is the importance of advocacy. I have been working with staff and administration at Berklee to address the concerns of many military-connected students on campus in terms of how we are processed and received into the community. There are some recurring issues specific to student veterans that we are hoping will improve as we continue to bring these issues forward and educate people on how they can better handle them. The challenges I’ve experienced as a Berklee student veteran has left a lasting impression that I’ll carry forward as I aggressively advocate for veteran-inclusive practices in other organizations. It has highlighted for me how much more work needs to be done in order to ensure a more streamlined and catered experience for veterans entering non-military environments such as advanced education.
RV: My education at Berklee College of Music was instrumental to my career as a music therapist. The Music Therapy Department was exemplary in their teaching and guidance during my studies as a musician and clinician. In addition to the field experiences in Boston, Berklee sponsored a music therapy service trip to Kenya, where my passion for using music to bridge cultures was ignited. I also had opportunities to integrate across departments at Berklee, playing in ensembles, participating in studio recording projects, volunteering at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and serving as a student teacher for the Berklee City Music program. The combination of these opportunities contributed to the richness of my overall student experience at Berklee and generated a lasting passion for community-building through arts engagement.