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Dog visits help support therapy provision during pandemic



Mental health hospitals have faced significant challenges over the past 18 months, trying to find ways to keep patients engaged and motivated amidst ongoing restrictions and limited visits from friends and family.

So staff at Heatherwood Court, a forensic mental health hospital in Pontypridd, have involved their canine friends to help meet the challenge.

Service users at Heatherwood had previously enjoyed dog walking through connections with local animal shelters, but lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions meant they had been left disappointed when they couldn’t take part in their usual activities which formed part of the hospital’s pet therapy course.

When Paul Sutton, quality and development manager at Ludlow Street Healthcare, which runs the hospital, heard about this, he offered his dog,  miniature schnauzer Daisy May, to help bridge the gap until the kennels were open again.

Paul explained: “We have found that the presence of the dogs helps service users feel more relaxed and at ease so they start to open up to us about their fears and concerns. They become far less guarded which really helps with their treatment and recovery.”

Dr Penny McCarthy, clinical associate at Ludlow Street Healthcare, also brings her two dogs, Larry and Buddy, along to sessions at the hospital.

Dr McCarthy said: “From a clinical perspective, pet therapy rapidly builds positive working relationships, establishing rapport, trust and engagement with the therapeutic pathway.

“Time spent with animals in a clinical setting can also increase motivation to recover, decrease patient anxiety levels, bring a sense of calm, reduce incidences on the ward, increase self-esteem and confidence, as well as reducing boredom and feelings of isolation, especially after the tough lockdowns we have endured over the past 16 months.

“Although pet therapy might not be for everyone, research has shown that stroking dogs and increased exercise that comes with dog ownership, also helps reduce blood pressure, improve cardiovascular health and diminish physical pain, potentially helping reduce medication required to control conditions which our mental health patients are particularly vulnerable to.”

Sarah House, operations director at Ludlow Street Healthcare, said: “Just before COVID hit we launched our co-produced Recovery College at Heatherwood. 

“With input from patients we offer courses that will promote wellbeing and rehabilitation as well as practical skill-based courses that will aid patients to successfully transition back into the community.

“Pet therapy was one of our most popular courses but had to be postponed due to COVID. Having staff bring in their own dogs has been a brilliant way of filling the gap and the patients look forward to the dog’s scheduled visits.”

Heatherwood Court is owned and run by healthcare specialists, Ludlow Street Healthcare. 

Established in 2005, Ludlow Street Healthcare has supported and cared for over 800 people. More information about Heatherwood Court and Ludlow Street Healthcare is available on their


Music therapy strikes a chord with traumatised emergency workers

The UK’s first pilot of its kind has delivered strong outcomes for participants as a way to deal with trauma



The Blue Light Symphony Orchestra (BLSO), in collaboration with Chroma, has successfully completed a UK-first pilot project delivering group Music Therapy to emergency service workers to help them recover from traumatic experiences.

Working with Surrey and Sussex Police, Surrey and East Sussex Fire and Rescue and Southeast Coast Ambulance Service, the project delivered a bespoke music therapy program for emergency workers. It drew inspiration from the USA where music therapy is widely used to treat PTSD and trauma-related issues in army veterans.

The BLSO was awarded £10,000 funding from the Coronavirus Community Support Fund, distributed by The National Lottery Community Fund, recognising that emergency workers have been exposed to increased levels of trauma while responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over 12 weeks, using a combination of psychodynamic music therapy, neurologic music therapy and dialectical behaviour techniques, emergency service personnel were able to experience, reflect, learn, and then transfer coping strategies into everyday life.

The group incorporated free improvisation, the learning of simple drumming techniques, blended with health and wellness education and interactive improvised music-making. Throughout the programme, the sense of camaraderie increased, alongside the enjoyment and playfulness that developed.

Seb Valentine, founder of the BLSO and serving Detective Sergeant with Surrey Police said: “We are extremely happy with the success of this project, bringing music therapy to emergency workers who develop mental health issues relating to the trauma they experience daily.

“Positive feedback from participants has meant we are planning to run another project in the Surrey Sussex area. I hope that when my colleagues see how successful this pilot was, it will reduce scepticism and encourage more to take advantage and benefit from the healing power of music.

“I would love to hear from any other emergency services organisations in England or Wales that would like to host a Music Therapy project. We are actively seeking funding opportunities and know that music therapy can help support the mental wellbeing of emergency service workers, so please do get in touch.”

Chroma will also be expanding the support, with the West Midlands Ambulance Service starting a similar project in May 2022.

Daniel Thomas, managing director at Chroma, added: “This was a wonderful project to be a part of. By the end of the 12 weeks, 71 per cent of the participants’ recorded reduced levels of distress compared to their CORE-OM scores when they signed up for the program.

“As a result of this success, we are pleased to be able to expand the project to offer more emergency service personnel vital support to support their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.”

For more information regarding hosting a music therapy project, contact: Seb Valentine on 0777 337 2575 or via email

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How song writing can support brain injury recovery

Arts therapy provider Chroma looks at how music therapy is helping people with psychological issues post-trauma



Music therapy has once again proven itself effective in helping to support people with cognitive issues after brain injury, with song writing proving a powerful tool.

Sarah Morgan, a qualified music therapist at Chroma, uses song writing as a means to help those living with a brain injury, overcome cognitive issues such as trouble remembering, planning tasks, learning new information, sustaining attention, or dealing with emotions.

Loss of identity is a common emotion following a traumatic or acquired brain injury. Song writing lends itself to emotional expression when the victim has a decline in speech and language skills or has trouble discussing difficult memories.

For brain injury survivors, the process of song writing enables them to explore, question, and connect with their new sense of self and challenge the perception of how they see themselves versus how the world sees them.

A loss of identity following a brain injury ultimately negatively affects wellbeing. The transition from loss to acceptance takes time. Song writing offers a creative, identity-based exploration, which effectively helps to reveal issues in order to explore and make sense of them.

Sarah is currently supporting a young rapper who sustained a brain injury due to a road traffic accident (RTA), through song writing, improvisation and the use of music recording software. Her aim, and his own personal goal, is to help him begin to identify as himself once again.

Cognitively, song writing helps develop attention, concentration and task-planning and prioritisation skills. It also utilises working memory by allowing the client to repeat and manipulate phrases.

Engaging in making music focuses attention on a positive creative expression, and stimulates and induces the release of brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.  

Music plays an important role in providing a creative and emotional outlet and provides the client a positive focus. Song writing provides the client with a vessel to process trauma – by writing about the traumatic event or feelings surrounding it. 

In this particular case, creating new music enabled the client to re-connect with an integral part of himself – the rapper, which was a significant goal of his rehabilitation.

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Paving the way for a digital future in neuro-rehab

The Virtually Successful conference is uniting therapists from around the world to promote the power of remote rehab



An event which brings together therapists from across the world to analyse how the use of neuro-rehab innovation and digital therapy can benefit patients’ lives is being held next week.  

The first-of-its-kind Virtually Successful: Rehab in the New Normal event will reflect on the huge changes seen across neuro-rehab and healthcare since early 2020, and assess what the future now looks like for professionals and patients. 

Bringing together professionals from across the world, Virtually Successful has a five-day online programme – beginning on Monday – of insight from speakers who have helped to inspire, and have themselves been inspired by, the adoption of technology. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a digital approach to rehab adopted like never before, and has introduced many new ways of working into the sector. 

Many therapists now incorporate some form of technology in their work with patients – be it an app or gamified rehab programme, or use of remote monitoring – which they combine with traditional hands-on rehab, in a way that enables patients to play a greater role in their own recovery than ever before. 

Virtually Successful – supported by NR Times – is organised by Remote Rehab, a global community of therapists created during the pandemic to share best practice and experiences for the good of their patients, in what was an unknown new world of digital adoption for many. 

It has since grown into a thriving global platform for the sharing of knowledge, with a host of online resources, support groups, masterclasses, courses, techniques, tools and tips, designed to enable outstanding rehabilitation globally. 

Leanna Luxton, a neurophysiotherapist and co-founder of Remote Rehab, says the event will be of significant value both for those who are keen tech adopters, as well as those who are more sceptical. 

“I think we’re now at a time where we could put our heads in the sand and say ‘I’m done with this, I’m not doing it anymore, I’m going back to face to face’,” she says. 

“But as therapists, as much as we may want to do that personally, we have to consider the opportunities we may be missing for our clients in doing that.

“This conference is a call to action for all therapists to be at the forefront of the digital revolution. There are many possibilities in the blended approach to rehabilitation and many opportunities for ourselves, our patients and our services.”

Deborah Johnson, editor of NR Times, added: “Technology has played an absolutely crucial role in neuro-rehab over the past two years in enabling people to continue to rehabilitation remotely, and has helped therapists and patients alike to discover new-found possibilities in what could be achieved using digital tech. 

“Virtually Successful helps to showcase the amazing work that is being done in helping to continue to maximise the impact of remote rehab, with five days of insight and inspiration from some true leaders in their field from across the world. 

“The team at Remote Rehab have created a fantastic line-up and so much hard work has gone into organising this event, which is the first of its kind, and we at NR Times are delighted to lend our support.”

To sign up for Virtually Successful, at an NR Times reader discount rate, visit here

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