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2019 Health Care Champions Therapist: Kirsten Binder

Easter Seals Midwest

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While still relatively new in her career, Kirsten Binder recognizes the need to expand the reach of music therapy services to individuals and families with developmental disabilities.

Working for three years with Easter Seals Midwest, Binder has provided services as a board-certified music therapist to both rural and urban areas. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization serves 23 counties, and to better reach individuals unable to drive to Easter Seals’ offices in Springfield or Joplin, she set up a satellite location in Aurora.

“My role as a board-certified music therapist in the Ozarks is making vital services accessible to all and to help individuals of all ages and abilities become integrated and included in the community around them,” she says. 

After earning an associate of arts degree from Ozarks Technical Community College in 2010, Binder received a bachelor’s in music therapy from Drury University in 2014. She became certified in music therapy in 2015, through the Certification Board for Music Therapists. She is also a neurologic music therapist through the Robert F. Unkefer Academy for Neurologic Music Therapy.

Her education continues today, as Binder is pursuing an MBA at Drury that she’s aiming to complete by May 2021. She also must complete 100 continuing education credits each recertification cycle to practice as a board-certified music therapist.

Those education goals are part of Binder’s eagerness to learn, says Christine Breig, director of autism services for Easter Seals Midwest. She says music therapy is one of the organization’s most popular services, and Binder has counseled over 100 individuals. Her work supports clients in areas including communication, socialization and coping skills.

“She has celebrated countless successes with individuals and families, and has helped the people she serves work towards obtaining a greater quality of life,” Breig says.

As music therapy sessions vary from client to client, Binder says each treatment plan is custom made with the help of an interdisciplinary team, including parents, service coordinators, teachers and therapists. Musical role play and improvisation are among ways she’s helped patients. 

“Expressive and receptive communication are incredibly important when engaging with family, friends and members of the community,” she says. “Any type of therapy can be a slow process, and to see individuals put in hard work and then succeed is my driving force.”

One of those successes was helping create a rock band for teens with autism in 2017 when working for Easter Seals in Poplar Bluff. During an eight-week period, the group focused on music, independence and social skills. It culminated in a community concert, in which Binder says she could hear the hard work and devotion in every note they played.

“Seeing the audience give the group a standing ovation and seeing parents wipe tears from their eyes from pride and joy was the most incredible thing that I have witnessed as a music therapist,” she says.

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