Sharing Music is Something Special

Since 2003, the Children’s Cancer Foundation has invested more than $900,000 in the music therapy service at Monash Children’s Hospital. This funding has enabled children and adolescents with cancer to access therapeutic services while undergoing treatment.

Music therapy techniques such as therapeutic music lessons, song writing, active music making, relaxation, improvisation or facilitating discussion through listening to a young persons preferred songs can ease the tension, anxiety and low mood caused by the difficulties of a childhood cancer journey. During lengthy treatments, it helps distressed children cope with their constant worry, offers relaxation and pain control and encourages social interaction.

Priscilla Pek, who has been working as a music therapist at Monash Children’s Hospital since 2012, said: “music therapy focuses on improving the child’s health, functioning and wellbeing. Every session will have a different goal, depending on what is going on for the child on any particular day.”

“Some days, you might focus on getting them out of their shell and to engage with the therapist, sing songs and interact positively with their family through talking and smiling. Other days, you focus more on relaxation and distraction from their demanding treatment,” Priscilla said.

“During medical procedures, music therapy can also be used to provide a distraction and decrease their perception of pain to help patients develop positive coping strategies to use during treatment and hospitalisation,” she said. 

Nine-year-old Georgia was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in July 2017. Georgie and her mother, Anna, both highly value the music therapy service funded by the Children’s Cancer Foundation.

“Georgia loves music therapy. It’s one of the things we asked for right away. I just knew it was really important for her mental health,” Anna said.

“After she has had a music session, she’s very motivated and wants to do other things like borrow a keyboard, play around on any instrument or listen to music on her iPad. She gets a sense of calmness and it brings her back to life. It’s just so vital for Georgia.”

And the impact of music therapy does not end once the children go home.

“The wonderful thing about music is that it is not context dependent. With a voice, an instrument or an iPod, patients can self-initiate participating in or listening to music in any environment,” Priscilla said.

For Anna and Georgia, musical activities have become an important part of their life and they don’t stop playing once they leave the hospital.

“Georgia can’t use her legs at the moment, but we make up actions with our arms and heads, and we dance and sing sitting down,” Anna said.

Priscilla said that seeing the effect the music therapy service has on the children’s mood and behaviour feels like a privilege.

“Being able to share music with them and have them share their music with me, when they are going through one of the toughest moments in their life, is something very special,” she said.

“We are very grateful for the ongoing support of the Children’s Cancer Foundation for making this service possible.”

Priscilla Pek, Music Therapist