Mind & Spirit

How music is helping kids heal

Photo courtesy of Sons and Daughters Image by: Photo courtesy of Sons and Daughters Author: Canadian Living

Mind & Spirit

How music is helping kids heal

For a child facing a life-threatening illness or dealing with regular bouts of chemo, music can be a special kind of medicine. Singing songs and making melodies can take them away from their struggles and help them feel alive. "It's like it strengthens them so they can deal with what they have to deal with in a stronger way," says Ruth Roberts, a music therapist at SickKids Hospital.

The Music Therapy Program at SickKids Hospital is a unique donation-funded program that uses music to promote, maintain and restore psychological, physical, emotional and spiritual health. Since it started in 1999, the program has been helping children, from newborns to 18-year-olds, using singing, song writing, storytelling and playing instruments to help kids heal.

The kids can express anything, including their experiences in the hospital, and they have the opportunity to play a variety of instruments, like the piano, flute and guitar, just to name a few. Roberts says that listening to and playing music provides a peaceful environment to a child who is ill and can help them open up. "I've worked with kids who have brain tumors, who can't speak but they can communicate through singing," she says.

Music can help their physical well-being, too. "It can help a child who has been very agitated and restless to be able to sleep, which promotes their healing. It can help them be less anxious and also help them become more mobile," says Roberts. "It is so rewarding because we can work with a child's potential, rather than their pathology. We don't focus on the illness, we focus on what is alive, and music is alive and well." The program focuses on one-on-one sessions with the children that could be right at their bedside. Carolyn Williams, who is another music therapist, runs music therapy groups with children 15 years and older. "Some children who have cancer stay at home, but come to the hospital on a regular basis," says Roberts, "and we still maintain a relationship with them."

The kids aren't the only ones who benefit. Parents are also invited to participate in the music therapy sessions. "I've had families say that this is as much therapy for the child as it is for them, particularly if a child is dying, or very sick in intensive care," says Roberts. "One mom said it was important for her child, because it was the only chance where he got to be a kid again."

For Roberts, the most moving experiences come from the happiness she sees in the children. "Being connected through music speaks to the deepest part of the human experience. And parents say it was worth a million bucks to see their child smile," she says. "It is very inspiring to see how people are willing to work through lives with what they have been given."

For more information on how you can help, visit the Music Therapy page to learn more.

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Mind & Spirit

How music is helping kids heal

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