Music Therapy offers hope and joy at IWK

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Most days you might catch a glimpse of Lindsay Ward in the hallways of the IWK pushing a cart full of musical instruments, a guitar slung across her back. As a music therapist and a member of IWK Health’s Child Life team she uses music as a way to support patients and families during their hospital stay.

Photo by Ryan Wilson, IWK

Ward finds her role can differ from patient to patient, even if they are on the same unit. The one thing they do share is that they are all experiencing hospitalization, a challenge that has been made that much more difficult during the pandemic.

“Over the past year, music therapy for some patients and families has become more essential during their stay in the hospital,” says Ward. “Patients can be isolated to their rooms and unable to see friends and families, so music therapy for them is an outlet for self-expression, a pause from medical procedures and often a joyful and hopeful moment in their day.”

For some patients, music therapy can provide sensory stimulation, help with developmental or rehab goals, or promote relaxation in times of stress, or familiarity in an environment where many things are unfamiliar. For others it can offer a verbal or non-verbal outlet to communicate thoughts, feelings and emotions. Some patients use it to work towards developing a musical skill or writing songs.

“A baby under six months that has a well-developed auditory system, may participate in music therapy to continue to develop their senses and work on attachment and bonding,” says Ward.  “A teenager, on the other hand, may be working on learning an instrument that they can use as a coping skill even after their discharge.”

Photo by Ryan Wilson, IWK

Ward finds requested songs may vary week to week, as popular songs on the radio change (right now its Shake My Sillies Out by Laurie Berkner and Riptide by Vance Joy) but it’s the music’s familiarity that can help a patient cope with their situation. “It could be a song from the radio, or one they sing in school,” says Ward. “Or a song that they sing before bedtime.

Music Therapy is available on a consult basis on the inpatient Children’s Health units, the Garron Centre and will return to Children’s Intensive Services once regular service provision resumes. Anyone can refer a pediatric inpatient to music therapy, even the patients themselves.

March is Music Therapy Month.