Music has the power to evoke emotions, to inspire and to motivate. Music therapy is a form of psychological therapy using music, sound, instruments, and music technology to support people to make positive changes in their lives. It engages and supports children and adults alike, with a range of psychosocial, emotional, medical or behavioural issues.

With this in mind, York-based charity ‘Jessie’s Fund’ kindly funded a yearlong project to bring music therapy to paediatric in-patients at York Hospital. The service offered music therapy to children staying in York Hospital and the project was supervised by clinical psychologist Emma Peakman.

The project, which ran in its present form until early June, benefited children who may not be able to, or do not wish to, communicate verbally by promoting and maintaining their emotional wellbeing.

What happens during music therapy sessions in hospital?

Small instruments can be used for activities such as exploring different sounds, musical introductions and rhythmic turn-taking giving children and families a chance to do something whilst they are awaiting news from the doctors about how long they will be staying.

Music can also be provided to individuals and groups to stimulate or relax the patient using familiar songs at the bedside, to improvised music and psychodynamic techniques to help the patient understand their emotions.

The sessions explore the role of live music on ward, facilitating open group, offering individual sessions and mentoring music volunteers.

Why is music therapy so Important to children and their families?

For children, coming to terms with a diagnosis can be difficult as can putting into words how they are feeling about it. Music offers children in this situation a way to help process and deal with their emotions. The same too can be said for the families of the child, which is why families (more often than not) are included in the sessions. A diagnosis can put pressure upon a family when a child has a medical regime to follow and music therapy provides an outlet.

Music has the power to transform lives and help children deal with their emotions whilst helping them to understand their health condition and situation. The music therapy project within paediatric psychology has provided children and their families with an alternative and creative musical medium to express and manage emotions, whether this is in a short-term in-patient setting, a planned piece of more long-term intervention, or within a group.

It has benefited children who may not be able to, or do not wish to, communicate verbally by promoting and maintaining their emotional wellbeing. This holistic approach in paediatrics, which values both physical and emotional health care greatly benefits patients and their families.

Music can transform lives and the need for non-verbal communication outlets for children who find verbal communication difficult, means music therapy is invaluable. Its ability to help children and their loved ones process and manage their emotions following diagnosis, helps provide more understanding between loved ones whilst helping all involved to accept diagnosis.

This project may be the catalyst to fuel more projects in and around the UK just like this one.

Steven Lyons is a registered music therapist at Chroma Therapies.