Q&A with Karla Hawley – Music Therapy Director

Q&A with Karla Hawley – Music Therapy Director

Karla C. Hawley, MT-BC, M.Ed. is the Neurologic Music Therapy Director at the Snohomish County Music Project. Hawley is a Board-Certified Music Therapist and Neurologic Fellow. She supervises and delivers care to all ages: from seniors with aging-related disorders to adjudicated youth reintegrating with the community.

We sat down with Hawley to share her experiences working with such diverse populations in Snohomish County as well as growth and challenges in 2016.

Karla C. Hawley, MT-BC, M.Ed.

Getting into Music Therapy

“I love music. I love what it feels like when I’m playing music with other people. When we’re all together playing, it’s this very yummy place of feeling connected, having fun, and being creative. I’ve been playing the piano since I was 4 years old. The joy of playing, for me, is just wonderful.

“When I realized how good I felt after playing, I wanted to understand, “why does this happen? I want to be able to do this for others.” My major in college was biology and pre-med and child psychology. I did’t know about music therapy even though it was in existence at the time. I’ve had this sojourn on the West Coast discovering what music does for us: the science, the biology of it, and what it does emotionally and psychologically.

“I found music therapy after getting my Master’s in education and all my undergraduate work in biology and psychology. I realized there is a way of using music as a tool for the betterment of community, of self, of family: all of our concentric circles of connection.”

Key Experiences with Our Community

“Most recently, I was working with a client at-risk of suicide. In using some specific neurological music therapy techniques, they’ve noticed that the nightmares have lessened, the anxiety has decreased while clarity of thought has increased. Self-concept and self-esteem have increased. The desire to move forward and look for a job has increased. I’m excited for them.

“Another individual was referred to us by the Denny Juvenile Center during our sessions at the Northwest Music Hall. Now that he’s close to graduating the program, he wants to come back and do his high-school required volunteer work here at the Music Project. He was really excited at the possibility of “being one of you guys. I can come here and help out.” That was wonderful that he found something positive here in terms of self-expression and safety while learning about music and about himself.

“In working with individuals with Alzheimer’s, watching a person light up when their favorite songs are being played is a highlight for me. Having their songbook ready for them and singing their songs –together- helps share something really meaningful.”

Growth and Challenges in 2016

“This time last year, we had three sites where we were providing music therapy programs. In August 2015, we had nine sites. By the end of the year, we’ll have twelve sites. We’re rapidly growing.”

“There’s such a need for this kind of work. We’re filling gaps for people, even when insurance doesn’t cover it. There’s a strong need for mental health resources. We also need more music therapists in order to service the needs for the entire community. Improving access to care and expanding programs are huge challenges but also attainable ones in 2016.”


  • Kaathy Wilkie says:

    I have seen and been part of several music therapy presentations at the brain injury conferences that my husband and i have attended. We have also seen how it helps and sustains our adult son who has suffered a traumatic brain injury. We believe it has specifically helped him in moving to learning to communicate with an eye gaze system and also helped in getting through the pain of his chronic spasticity. We have seen the hugely encouraging effect music has on the other residents of the nursing home where he lives.
    I have also experienced the joy and increase in positiveness my times in Zumba have given me.
    I would like to support such a program as yours with personal effort if I might be of any use to you.

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