2016 Archives

Music therapy touches healing chord with homeless individuals

October 4, 2016

By Nancy George
SMU News 

DALLAS (SMU) – A circle of 12 men and women shake tambourines, beat drums and rattle shakers in a corner of the cafeteria at Dallas' the Bridge Homeless Recovery Center. They are accompanying the Otis Redding classic, "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay." Music therapist Kamica King slowly dials down the volume of the audio system until just the percussion instruments fill the cafeteria, becoming their own unique rhythm. The performance ends with a flourish of drumbeats.


A music therapist, Kamica King uses music as a tool to help others.

"We made music," King says.

As a music therapist, King uses music as a tool to help individuals work on nonmusical goals. Guests at this music therapy session say it helps them deal with stress, connect with one another and feel accepted for who they are.

A graduate of SMU's music therapy program, King created the music therapy program at the Bridge, a center designed to connect homeless individuals with resources to help them recover from homelessness. Care managers help connect homeless individuals with on-site health, mental health, veteran, substance abuse and job hunting resources. Music therapy is offered once a week as an additional resource for Bridge guests. Guests take part in the afternoon Bridge Beats program as well as morning music studio, where King gives music lessons and offers independent music making opportunities.

"We see 600 to 800 individuals each day who may be at the absolute lowest point of their life," says David Woody, chief services officer at the Bridge. "Art and music may be a constructive part of their history that can be the beginning of a conversation about their struggle. The music in the corner of the cafeteria could be the beginning of their connectedness."

King chose "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" for its words as well as its beat. She leads Bridge guests in a discussion of Redding's lyrics. 

I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay
Watchin' the tide roll away
I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay
Wastin' time

"It's all of our song, sitting around doing nothing," says Susan, a regular music therapy attender. 

"Is he wasting time?" King asks.

"Maybe he's cooling off, taking time for himself," says Richard, another Bridge Beats regular.

King was selected in 2014 by Bridge advisors, including SMU music therapy faculty members and alumni, to create the Bridge program. Her internship practicing music therapy with the homeless and those in recovery at San Diego's Rescue Mission, YMCA and Scripps Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program coupled with her program development background and entrepreneurial spirit prepared her well for the position. King interned with with MusicWorx, Inc. and Resounding Joy, Inc. in San Diego.

A singer-songwriter and arts entrepreneur, she is founder of King Creative Arts Expressions, a music therapy and arts consulting and direct service company. She provides music therapy for cancer patients at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, performs at venues ranging from Carnegie Hall to the George W. Bush Presidential Center and composes music for special events. She wrote and performed "Live, Love, Dream" featured in "Signs of Humanity," a documentary about SMU advertising professor Willie Baronet and his work to raise awareness about homelessness. King graduated from Western Connecticut State University in 2009 with a degree in music and minors in psychology and communications and is a 2013 graduate of SMU's music therapy program. 

Kamica King"My mission is to help others," King says. "I'm drawn to the overlooked and the underserved. The music and experiences I share can be a spark that helps someone else make a positive impact on the world, too."

King is not the only SMU graduate associated with The Bridge, a national model for homeless recovery. Jay Dunn, Bridge president and CEO, is a 2000 SMU Perkins School of Theology graduate along with Sam Merten, chief operating officer and a 2007 SMU Meadows School of Arts journalism graduate. SMU students regularly volunteer at the Bridge on SMU's Community Service Day and to fulfill service requirements for human rights and other classes. Music therapy students at SMU also complete practicums in music therapy with King. In addition to her music therapy sessions, King has launched other programs for the Bridge including the bi-monthly karaoke night. Last spring she helped Mustang Heroes, an SMU student organization devoted to community service, donate their time, talent, refreshments and door prizes to help pilot the program. Karaoke night has drawn increasingly larger crowds over the summer, attracting as many as 70 guests a night. 

As the music therapy session ends, guests gather the percussion instruments and return them to King's rolling music therapy cart. She serves them a snack, then they gather things and leave for appointments with Bridge resource staff, return to the Bridge's shaded courtyard or go outside. King sends them off with a smile.

"Music therapy is literally the bridge for some people that propels them to seek help," King says. "I count it as a blessing to work with them."