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September 23, 2013

Peabody woman helps others heal with music


Wacks grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and studied at Northeastern and Harvard. She’s served in such diverse places as the Fernald School in Massachusetts and the University of Alaska at Valdez before arriving in Peabody 16 years ago. Wacks is married with two grown stepchildren. Her credentials include a state license in mental health counseling and a talent for the French horn and piano.

“To be a music therapist, you need to be a musician first,” she said.

The case for music therapy has been well established. “Having been a music therapist for 30 years, I’ve seen the field develop and grow,” Wacks said.

Former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords offers a compelling example. Shot in January 2011, she suffered brain damage but has made a startling recovery. “It was through music therapy she got her abilities back,” Wacks said.

Asked to work with people in war-torn areas, Wacks jumped at the idea. “I love to travel. I love to make music with people. I love to see the many ways music can be used to help.”

She made her first trip to Kenya in 2007. Later, she returned to Africa with a group of Berklee students who worked with orphans.

Recently, Wacks traveled to Colombia where rebel guerrillas and paramilitary fighters are emerging from the jungle at the end of a guerrilla war.

“Everyone’s been impacted by the conflict,” she said.

With her Berklee crew, she helped establish a model for therapy to be used by Colombia’s Agency for Reintegration.

She hopes they have the same success that she saw in Uganda with Michael, the former child soldier.

“Something about the music brought him to a place of safety.” She’s kept in touch with all her African friends through the Internet and feels Michael has progressed, even finding a job. He works with a dance troupe, making music.

Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at

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