Local brings holistic wellness practice to Rio Grande Valley

In May of last year, Marissa De Leon brought the first ever therapy and wellness center to the Rio Grande Valley.

De Leon will host a free monthly community drum circle this year with the mission to bring healing to the region, “whether it’s through music or whether it’s meeting new people that are like-minded,” she said.

The first session was Jan. 13 at the RGV Music Therapy and Wellness Center in Mercedes, which happens to be De Leon’s hometown.

Before the start of the therapy session, De Leon, a board certified music therapist and Texas Women’s University graduate, introduced herself and shared some of the benefits of music therapy, then had the group state the affirmation — “I am filled with life.”

“Everything we do here is for mind, body and spirit … taking the needs of the whole person,” she said. “We believe in the emotional side, physical side and the spiritual side. Everything socially comes together to create what we think of as overall health.”

Music therapy is gaining recognition in the medical community as more and more people are moving away from pharmacological medications and toward holistic wellness, according to De Leon. Musictherapy.org states that many private insurance companies, as well as Medicare and Medicaid, have begun to cover the treatment, as it is “comparable to other allied health professions like occupational and physical therapy.”

More than a dozen people attended the first music therapy session. De Leon sat at one side of a wall with her father — who is also a musician — seated to her right before a large drum, while attendees sprawled out on a large rug and yoga mats.

Musical drums were provided, as well as makeshift creations that included object-filled soda cans and empty coffee containers.

“I would say to turn anything into a musical instrument,” De Leon encouraged the attendees. “You can get Easter egg shakers and fill them with rice or beans; they all make a different sound.”

To get the rhythm going, De Leon instructed her father to “keep a steady beat:” the other drummers followed suit.

Throughout the session, she acted as an orchestrator by adjusting the volume and moving from one section of the room to another with hand motions.

De Leon said the majority of her patients are home health adults with special needs. However, music therapy benefits a wide audience. While she plays several instruments, she chose to use drums for these community sessions due to research findings.

“Veterans with PTSD do a lot of drumming,” she said. “You can find music therapists in hospitals, (Natal Intensive Care Units), behavioral health centers, mental health centers and schools.”

Her website lists goals and outcomes in music therapy, including: improvement of motor functioning, enhancing memory, increasing attention to a task, facilitating emotional release, spiritual expression, etc.

Anna Almazan from McAllen attended the first session in order to ease some tension from her “very stressful” job.

“Having to think of something else and getting into the rhythm,” she said, helps her to feel “in tune” with her body.

By the end of the year, De Leon hopes to make music therapy more accessible to the community by adding additional music therapists and sessions.

For more information on treatments provided by the wellness center, visit rgvmusictherapy.com or find it on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter by the same handle.

The story has been updated to reflect the correct name for Marissa De Leon.