Music Therapy Week 2021: Music that heals

The hospital can be a scary place for a child and their family. Coming to terms with their diagnosis and treatment in an unfamiliar setting can naturally cause uneasiness and trepidation. Across the Network, many teams work together to try and help alleviate this fear and one of those teams is our incredible music therapists.  

Our music therapists work hard to minimise stress, alleviate anxiety and put smiles on the faces of children whilst in hospital. This evidence-based, allied health profession, uses music as its primary method of intervention to help patients in hospital, like four-year-old Laili.

In September 2019, Laili was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour called Craniopharyngioma which caused cysts to form. These cysts caused added pressure on her brain and left Laili with devastating consequences including loss of appetite, loss of eyesight in her left eye and the inability to walk. During her first stay in the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick (SCH), Laili was visited by a Music Therapist and mum, Nicole Glynn-Kefu, remembers the first session to be quite emotional. 

“Her first music therapy session was so powerfully uplifting. It reminded me that my daughter is so truly special, inspirational, strong, brave and would fight her battle both in front of her and that ahead. She changed as a patient that day. She was far more content and definitely a little less fiercely opposed to the nursing staff doing their two-hourly observations,” recalled Nicole.

To date, Laili has endured seven brain surgeries, multiple MRIs and five weeks of radiotherapy treatment. She is recovering well and getting stronger every day and the family can’t be more thankful for the music therapy team.

“As a family, we love music and play it often when we cook, study and play at home. Music therapy brought a piece of home to the hospital for Laili which helps distract her but also energises her to keep fighting this battle. Having music therapists at SCH has improved and truly changed our lives,” said Nicole.

Jack Thomas, Music Therapist at Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network (SCHN), described his role as providing developmental, social and emotional support through musical play to create a total healing environment. 

“Our sessions can include skill-building, songwriting, improvised jams, musical play, interactive play songs and rhythmic games. We target our sessions towards the individual and empower them to take the lead and tell us what they want and need. It’s definitely a two-way session and we want as much feedback from the patient as possible,” said Jack. 

The impact of COVID-19 has been felt by everyone in the community and for our patients and their families, it has been a particularly tough time to be in the hospital. During the last 18 months, our Music Therapists have adapted and worked collaboratively with other departments across the SCHN to deliver their services in the digital world. 

During this lockdown period Annabelle, our Music Therapist at Bear Cottage, has been running regular virtual music therapy sessions for our Bear Cottage children and their families to enjoy. One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that having these regular sessions with the children has led to them quickly learning to anticipate what is ahead and looking forward to the opportunity to participate. After “logging on” Annabelle has been delighted to be welcomed by an eager child already patting a drum or shaking a bell in readiness for the session to begin

These regular sessions have also enabled Annabelle to develop a repertoire of specially selected songs for each child, which can be added to overtime. A single song enables so much potential for developmental growth for any child when used skilfully and therapeutically, addressing emotions, movement, cognition and social connection.

This week (16-20 August) is Music Therapy Week and across the Network, we celebrate and highlight the work of our Music Therapists and the impact they have on our patients and families. See below for more music resources: