Music Therapy - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


Music Therapy

Milwaukee VA music therapists (from left to right): Christine Wiggin, Sandi McCormick and Makenzie Kojis.

Music is the doctor of my soul, the Doobie Brothers once sang. At the Milwaukee VA, we believe music is also part of our holistic and evidence-based care that helps our Veterans heal mentally, physically and spiritually. Read the Qs and As, stories and video below to find out more information about what we offer and how it can help you.

What does music therapy consist of at the Milwaukee VA?
Music therapy is currently offered to those Veterans who are in treatment on the inpatient mental health, palliative care and transitional care units. It is used with veterans to target mood such as depression and anxiety, physiological symptoms such as pain, cognition, and self expression related to treatment issues.  It is also offered on a limited basis to those veterans involved in outpatient pain management .

I get my care at one of the Community Clinics. Can I get music therapy?
At this time, the only music involvement available to outpatients or those at CBOCs is participation in the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival at the local  level. Veterans engaging in the Creative Arts festival generally already play or sing, and music instruction is not part of this program. Clinical Music Therapy is not currently available at the Community-Based Outpatient Clinics.

Who leads the music therapy treatment and what is their background?
Music therapists are nationally board certified by the Certification Board for Music Therapists.  They offer music therapy as a direct care service and part of a clinical treatment team. Not only are they trained musicians, but they are also proficient therapists, poised to assess veteran needs and create individualized music interventions for treatment. 

Why do you believe music therapy helps Veterans?
Music directly affects brain functioning. Music Therapists have expertise in using their knowledge of music and the brain to harness and channel music’s effects into the ideal outcome. The music therapist can use music in various ways to affect physical energy and motor coordination, emotions and mood, relaxation, thought processes, attention and more.

Do I have to already need to be musically talented in order to benefit from music therapy?
No. Music therapists have unique training that allows clients to benefit from music, even when the person receiving the therapy has no music skill. Music therapists are trained to assess a Veteran and work on treatment goals unique and specific to the veteran’s care plan with prescribed music interventions. 

How does music therapy help Veterans with their treatment and recovery?
Music therapy may help begin discussion of treatment issues. It may promote emotional expression and balance; help focus and organize thinking; and reduce anxiety, tension and stress.

Can I just ask to be a part of this, or do I have to be put in the program by a provider?
Music therapy is currently included as part of treatment on the inpatient mental health, palliative care and transitional care units. The Creative Arts Festival and Guitars For Vets are available to any veteran who receives care but are not considered clinical music therapy.


Sound of music helps Veterans heal, find peace

Christine Winggin singsWorld War II Veteran John Bosch taps his toes, sways and then begins to sing along as Music Therapist Christine Wiggin strums her guitar for a song from the 1940s. She is one of three Milwaukee VA music therapists who work with Veterans in a variety of settings.Learn More.

What does a music therapy session consist of?
Music therapy sessions are varied depending on the clinical needs of the Veteran. Sessions consist of talking as well as music interventions. The music itself can be live or pre-recorded, sometimes the music making is active and sometimes it’s receptive. The veteran and therapist work together to find the most effective music intervention that will help the veteran achieve his/her clinical goals. 

What is Guitars for Vets? Is it music therapy?
Guitars for Vets may be therapeutic, but it is not the same as music therapy as it is conducted by volunteer musicians, NOT trained music therapists. Music therapy is facilitated by a Board Certified Music Therapist (MT-BC) and is integrated into a clinical plan of care of a treatment team.

What can you tell me about Guitar for Vets? Is it offered at the Milwaukee VA?
Guitars for Vets is non-profit, non-VA program, offered on a voluntary basis by instructors who have met the guidelines of a VAVS volunteer, in addition to being a Guitars for Vets instructor. Students must be Veterans. An application form is filled out and the Veteran placed on a waiting list. Once a Vet begins, they make a commitment to ten private, half-hour lessons, and practice time between lessons. Upon successful completion, Guitars for Vets will help provide a guitar for Vets who need one. There is also a weekly group lesson for those who have completed the program where they can come back for additional help and guidance. For more information on Guitars for Vets, contact Courtney Zeller, 414-384-200 ext. 45981.

Is there anything else I need to know about the VA’s music therapy program?
Questions may be directed to Tony Wagner, recreation/creative arts therapy supervisor at 414-384-2000, ext. 41138.


Meet the Music Therapy Team

Makenzie KojisMakenzie Kojis is a board-certified music therapist and has been in practice since 2010 and at the Milwaukee VA since 2017. She serves the Veterans of the Milwaukee VA in Acute Mental Health including the Bridge IOP program and inpatient mental health. Makenzie integrates evidenced-based music therapy techniques with a dialectical behavior therapy model to assist Veterans experiencing emotional dysregulation as well as other symptoms of psychiatric diagnoses. Through the use of a variety of music therapy techniques such as lyric analysis, song writing and improvisation, Makenzie is able to assist a diverse group of patients to reach their individual mental health goals. She is a graduate of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Cassandrea McCormickSandi McCormick was born and raised in the Milwaukee area. She attended the College of Saint Teresa, located in Winona, Minnesota, and graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in music therapy. Sandi’s primary instruments are violin, piano and voice. She interned at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex working with in-/out-patient adults and in-patient children and adolescents. Sandi began working as a creative arts music therapist at the Milwaukee VA in 1986. She has worked in many areas of the medical center treating Veterans for substance abuse, mental health challenges, stroke, dementia, physical rehabilitation, PTSD, COVID-19 recovery challenges, palliative care and more. It has been Sandi’s great honor to serve those who served our country.

Christine WigginChristine Wiggin is a board-certified music therapist. She earned her bachelor's of music therapy from University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2007 and completed her music therapy internship at Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. Since then, Christine has had the pleasure of serving our geriatric population with medical fragilities in settings not limited to long-term care facilities, group homes, and rehab centers. She additionally carries advanced practice certification in Neurologic Music Therapy and extensive education in Hospice and Palliative Care based Music Therapy.