Tuning in to the power of music

29 March 2018

Everyone knows that hearing a certain song can instantly lift their mood, while another tune will bring a tear to their eye – we all respond to music.

At Demelza, we use the power of music to comfort babies, children and young people in our care, and give them and their families an outlet for their emotions.

Music Therapist Victoria Swan, who works at our hospices in Kent and South East London, explains: “Music therapy is based on the belief that we can all respond to and appreciate music, regardless of age, disability or illness.”

Victoria uses her voice, a wide range of instruments, and – particularly popular in sessions with older children – digital music technology in individual and group sessions.

“Every session is completely different. If I am working with bereaved siblings, for instance, they might want to write a song about how much they miss their brother or sister. They may be dealing with emotions they struggle to talk about, like guilt at feeling glad to have their mum and dad back to themselves, and music is an outlet for expressing them.”

As well as an emotional response, music also has a physiological effect. “Music has an extraordinary capacity to offer a distraction during painful and invasive procedures or muscle spasms,” explains Victoria. “It has been shown to reduce pain levels by influencing the levels of endorphins.”

Music therapy is one of the ways Demelza helps families to build precious memories. When a child is receiving end of life care, Victoria offers to sing and play for everyone.

“If I have already had sessions with the child I will know the songs and instruments they like, otherwise I go on instinct, using quieter instruments like acoustic guitar, singing bowl or thumb piano. I encourage the rest of the family to dance, sing or just listen together, and often record the sessions to add to their treasured memories.

“Music can bring families together during extraordinarily difficult times. Families can bond over music because it offers a shared experience which is not about the next medical procedure. For the child, music aids relaxation and helps with their breathing, and brings an acoustic source of comfort, reassuring them of their family’s presence.”

Music can also help address cultural and spiritual needs when a child dies. Through working with a Nigerian mother whose newborn son was receiving end of life care, Victoria discovered that in her culture musicians sang when people died to guide their spirit into the next life. Victoria was able to to sing and play for the baby boy, bringing her great comfort.

Victoria has known she wanted to be a music therapist since the age of 12, when her music teacher introduced the idea because although she loved to sing, Victoria hated to perform. Having gained her music degree and Masters in music therapy, she was volunteering at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in London when she met a young woman who had received care at Demelza until she reached adulthood, and who encouraged her to use her skills to help whole families. She joined us shortly afterwards in 2012.

“I am very proud to work for Demelza,” she says. “I love that my job is different every day, and feeling that I make a difference.”

Find out more about the therapies on offer at Demelza by visiting www.demelza.org.uk/therapies