"You Oughtta Know...You Live Here (at the hospital)"
Updated: Oct 24, 2020
Healing Today...Thriving Tomorrow
I have worked in pediatrics for the great majority of my career. In that time, I have seen many ways that music helps children cope with hospitalization. From helping a fearful 5 year old play an instrument during a painful needle procedure, easing a teenager's surgical pain through guided imagery, giving a 10 year old a means to express fears and frustrations about a new diagnoses with songwriting, to helping a toddler move towards developmental milestones over the course of his young life with chronic illnesses with musical play, and more, Music Therapy facilitates physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual coping, healing, and growth.
One important element of this coping is having and trusting in relationships that are supportive and comforting. Music Therapy can help children develop that trust with the people in the hospital that care for them, but even so, it can take time.
One little 2-year old that stands out in my memory became very fearful of hospital staff very quickly. He was referred for Music Therapy early in his admission to give him positive experiences and choices...to build trust. However, it took 3 visits over 3 days and 3 shouts of "NO!" before I could even enter his room. Eventually, because I respected the "no," he did allow me to come into his room, approach his bed, and sing one song. That was the start of his gaining trust with the hospital staff. In the following years of his treatment for cancer, Music Therapy became an important part of his coping. And, he helped me understand just how well he was coping one particular day.
As children develop, their perceptions and understanding of hospitalization and treatment change. One day when this patient was 5, I wanted to re-assess his current understanding of his experience. So, I sang a song about a coal-powered train engine that "got a cold in his stack." The song went on to tell the story of how the train, named, "Cherry" for his bright red paint, asked the conductor for something to help him with his coughing and sneezing. The conductor looked at Cherry's stack and said, "Coal medicine will get you right on track." Now, this child had two jobs in this song: to say, "A-Choo!" on cue in the chorus and then to answer three questions at the end. Those questions were, "Do you have to take medicine?"; "What is your medicine for?"; and "How do you take your medicine?" This little boy was on top of his medication game. He knew, in a 5-year old way, why he had to take his medicine. When he pointed to his IV and the IV pump to show me how he got his medicine, I feigned ignorance (to make him feel like he knew more than me) and said, "Oh, is that what that is for?"
His reply with a little wrinkle of his eyebrow was, "You ought'ta know. You LIVE here." I told him that he caught me and laughed with a combination of embarrassment and amusement. This little boy not only continued to use music in the hospital, by the time he was 10, he was writing songs on his own about his experiences. Many of these songs were about the funny things that happened during his hospitalizations and treatment. He came a long way from that terrified 2-year old that wouldn't let the "Music Lady" play music with him for 3 days.
The role of the Music Therapist in a children's hospital includes creating experiences in which a child of any age is empowered to engage in the environment and with others, has meaningful choices within a safe structure, and feels supported by people he or she can trust. This is how Music Therapy helps children cope with the experience of illness, injury, chronic conditions, and hospitalization. This is what we know, because we live here.
For a broader view of Music Therapy in Medicine: https://www.musictherapy.org/assets/1/7/MT_Medicine_2006.pdf
Music Therapy at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital making a difference since 1994:
Music Therapy makes a difference for children with chronic and life-limiting illnesses and children recovering from illness or injury. Schedule a free consultation or an appointment for Music Therapy by following this link: