Lauren Yanow is a staff writer at Ragan Communications.
At every hospital, there's a special program that brings cheer to patients.
For Children's Hospital of Orange County, Calif., it's the music therapy program.
Eric Mammen, the hospital's music therapist, spends five days a week at the hospital. When working with the patients, he plays guitar, the keyboard,
various small percussion instruments, and a digital drum set. He also uses books, finger play, and singing, as part of his therapy techniques.
But how does he know that he's actually helping patients?
He shares this example:
One day, Mammen was playing music for an anxious two-year-old who was having her blood drawn for the fourth time that day. By playing guitar and
singing along to silly songs, Mammen was able to keep the child distracted and happy long enough to barely notice that blood was being drawn.
"I knew it was working when she would be listening and singing along with me—even laughing at times," Mammen says. "When we were finished, (her) father
looked at me and said, 'That was amazing, thank you.' This was the first time that his daughter had music therapy during a procedure and it made it a
can be useful to a patient, who is trying to overcome emotional obstacles from being ill, even if they aren't musically talented.
Typically used in children's hospitals, the goal of music therapy is to provide an outlet for patients to express their fears and anxieties. At CHOC,
Mammen is the only therapist on staff to work with children. Whether it's singing along to popular Disney songs with younger patients or helping older
ones write original songs about their experiences, Mammen knows his job helps children cope with the trauma of being hospitalized.
"The biggest improvement (in patients) is emotionally there is less fear," Mammen says. "Many have high anxiety. After working with music, they are
able to lower their fear and anxieties."
Aside from employing licensed music therapists in hospitals, some hospitals have developed specific music therapy programs to work with patients. In
St. Louis, Maryville University is the only school with a music therapy program. Kids Rock Cancer is a program that uses music therapy to help children who are coping with the
emotional and the physical distress of cancer. It was developed at Maryville University.
"The strength of the program is the ability for children to open up," says Kristie Skor, project director of Kids Rock Cancer. "Music really breaks
down barriers. They are able to express themselves more easily. Music therapy gives them a way to open up and gives them a way to talk about some
things they might be holding back."
Most music therapy programs provide the opportunity for patients to work with a music therapist and to write original songs. The therapist helps the
patient to express inner emotions through lyrics that are typically recorded during the session and burned to a CD.
"The songs are incredibly inspirational," Skor says. "Instead of being an 'oh poor me' message, they are songs of strength. It's amazing the maturity
they have and how they are able to really express that through their words and their songs."
Music therapy is not limited to children. According to the American Music Therapy Association website, music therapy has promising results for helping patients with mental health needs, learning disabilities, Alzheimer's
disease, and many other medical issues.
What is your hospital doing to brighten a patient's day?