Whether they’re patients or carers, people who come to Wakefield Hospice are often experiencing lots of change. A Music Therapy session gives them space to talk and explore their feelings in a safe environment. They can think about what’s going on in their lives, alongside someone who is trained to offer specialist support. The music can help them ‘pace’ their thinking, and they can create something while they talk about losses. They get something from a session that they can take away with them.
I have a postgraduate degree in Music Therapy and I’ve worked for 14 years as a music therapist – in residential homes, with people with dementia, and also with schoolchildren who have special educational needs. At Wakefield Hospice I work with patients, carers, groups and individuals. Music Therapy is available to all patients, and their families and carers.
Music has a lot of meaning for many people. In a music therapy session, there’s the option to play or listen to something – we’re in a room full of instruments and we can find particular songs, perhaps from when someone was younger. Many people can tell you exactly what they were doing at an important time in their life that relates to a particular song. Some people choose songs that tell you about their current experience. Others talk about something difficult or sad, and then sing something very strong or upbeat to counterbalance it.
Some people want to learn an instrument, and they can even compose music themselves during a session. Many people want to do something creative or learn a new skill when they’re going through a challenging time. Exploring our creativity can help us discover of our strengths, and thinking about dying can be easier when we’re doing something life-affirming and strong. Music Therapy creates an environment where people feel safe enough to explore their experiences. People are more able to talk about things that feel very fragile if they’re in a comfortable, familiar place.
Music Therapy sessions also give people a way of accessing support that otherwise they might not consider. Music can create a bridge – regular sessions allow us to build a relationship and, as people become familiar with me, they become familiar with the hospice. One week a session can be about singing something from their childhood, and then another week we might just talk about the medical appointments they have coming up.
I also run a Music Therapy group for carers. This is an opportunity for a different kind of conversation. The group talks a lot during the session and uses a lot of music – it can be quite lively! I facilitate the conversation but it’s more about the group sharing their experiences. Music gives us common ground, a way of connecting people who may not have much in common with apart from coming to the hospice. My job is to ensure that there’s space for everyone to be heard. I ask questions to help people understand what’s going on, and the music helps them communicate. That ‘shared experience’ is high on the list of reasons that people come back.
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