Interview with Julia Soto Lebentritt

Julia Soto Lebentritt is a ‘lullabologist’ and the owner of Spontaneous Care Communications. She has spent her career recording, presenting and producing lullabies from the many cultures that make up our American society is commended for clarification of the lullaby as a genre and exploration of multicultural settings.  As an elder care case manager, bereavement facilitator, therapeutic activities director and a family member, she is a caregiver using lullaby traditions. She has certification in Alzheimer’s disease management and a master’s in fine arts in creative writing.


Interviewer:  Julia, it’s nice to talk to you today. We’ll talk about your book for caregivers, It’s called “As Long as You Sing, I’ll Dance: The Bond, not the Burden, the Blessing of Reciprocal Caregiving.” You draw on both professional and personal experience to write it. Can you give me a little background on that experience?

Julia Soto:  OK. The book is strongly motivated by my mother’s dementia that was a really traumatic experience for me and my family. I’ve always been involved with care giving in many different ways. I’m called a professional caregiver, meaning that I’ve worked in caregiving for the last 15 years or more, especially as an activities director at a CCRC and a case manager for the aging in a field position.

I was out in the field in northern Vermont. I’m also working now in bereavement at a community hospice. I have…I’ve worked in other positions that have been direct care, like nurse companion, and various ways that have been useful [inaudible 01:33] , but the major other part of this unique piece of my work is that it’s related to parenting, as well.

Interviewer:  You talk about reciprocal care giving. Is this a term that you’ve coined, or you’ve just developed? Can you tell me a little bit about what it means?

Julia:  I have…It’s my own method that I experienced. In the ’80s I had the opportunity through grants from several national, state, and local programs to develop a rather large project called, “The New York City Lullabies Project.” And in that I went out and recorded on‑site the actual soothing and relaxing of children. And I saw there that the partner, the adult partner, could not soothe or relax the child without soothing and relaxing themselves. So I saw the reciprocal care that is available in good attached…as good attachments and bonding in the parent child/relationship, so that means it’s a mutual thing. That there’s no way that you can quiet down another without quieting yourself first and soothing yourself.

So out of that came my experience of I went into healthcare facilities and worked. I saw that there was a stressed care going on. The caregivers were stressed. It was a stressful place, and that if they could come for heart‑to‑heart care.

And even on your website I noticed today that there’s a mention of a quote. A happy senior says, “What we noticed immediately was that the employees treated the residents as friends and in some cases family.” And so what comes naturally really is, for the human being, caring and kindness, but if not nurtured and maybe also helped along by being encouraged that we should be interested in present in the moment, that caregiving is not reciprocal. In other words you’re not caring for yourself at the same time as you are caring for another when you are not giving reciprocal care.

Interviewer:  OK. So tell me then about the lullabies, and how they have a place in care giving through reciprocal care giving.

Julia:  Yes. First of all, I want to make it clear that I’m not talking about the recorded lullaby with music. I am talking about music. I’m talking more about the ways that the kinds of communications that the lullabies encourage. So in my book I’ve actually done an interesting piece of work in breaking out what lullaby communications are like, so the book includes activities that relate to humming, rocking, swaying, singing names, traditions of gathering. That’s like storytelling, other ways that we can gather through traditions that we create, tapping, echoing gentle touch. So I’m talking about the communications that the lullabies encourage, as well as the singing of certain songs that are appropriate and are meaningful to the people we’re working with.

Interviewer:  You say in your book that people with Alzheimer’s or dementia remember feelings associated with places and people even if they don’t directly remember the place or the person. So would you say that your therapies are ways to elicit memories of those feelings? Or to create a safe and familiar platform?

Julia:  Yes, absolutely. One of the major points in the book is making is that it’s a myth that there’s nothing there at all. Memories are sensual, related to sensual experiences, and the problem is is that we have to accept that we can no longer communicate just with language as if it were in an office somewhere or that the caregiving can be tremendously creative like our parents were creative in caregiving, that we can actually find a way that brings us back to our more original language, which there were many options when we were growing up as children to use sound, touch, movement, and all of these will help bring back memories and physical activity as well. And that is profound. There have been many examples lately, especially on the Internet, the viral example of that elder that was having no response at all in a wheelchair, and then suddenly they played some jazz from his youth on some iPod, and he became totally electric and shared memories of seeing Cab Calloway, or someone like that. It’s amazing.

Interviewer:  It is. That’s really neat. Do you think just because we begin to rely so much on verbal communication that we forget these things?

Julia:  Definitely, yes, we very…and that’s what’s stressing our society or culture today. We were not really built for the speed that we’re moving at and the daily census that has to be kept at such a large number and the requirements of documentation. We were not really built for that, and we’re involved as caregivers and as human communication. Also I want to point out, Carrie, that the history here is important to look at because dementia was originally treated under psychiatric nursing, and geriatric nursing is a fairly new and emerging field. So, for instance, my Aunt Sadie ended up in a mental institution because she was senile, they said. And that wasn’t that long ago, that that was how we took care of people who begin to exhibit dementia, and couldn’t be left alone, you know?

Interviewer:  So your book is really useful for caregivers across the spectrum, whether you’re caregiving in your home or for people working in a facility.

Julia:  Yes, thank you. I just want to point out that I had an experience in a wonderful CCRC in Vermont, northern Vermont. Wake Robin is the name of it, and there we had a group of independent, and some assisted living people, who joined the St. Bernard’s. And they become caregivers of these skilled living facility residents. And they were companions using the kinds of activities that I’m proposing in my book. I recently was visiting and doing a program at a facility in Albany, at the Region House, and one of the elders went off happily with the book, because she said, “We can do this. We can do this. We can help other people. I know this song.” So I think the caregiver, the people who are in your facilities can caregive.

Interviewer:  Definitely.

Julie:  Yeah.

Interviewer:  Great. OK. Again, the book is called “As Long as You Sing, I’ll Dance: The Bonds, Not the Burden, The Blessing of Reciprocal Caregiving.” I can find that on Is that right?

Julie:  Yes, that’s true.

Interviewer:  OK. Thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate talking to you.

Julie:  OK. Thank you Carrie, and let me know what
Transcription by CastingWords