Finding Solace In Music

By Patrick Lipawen

The concept of “normal” is something I think about often.  As a music therapist, I’ve found that most patients have some connection to music, so their sessions with me allow them to focus on something normal and familiar.

Although I work with children of all ages, I think that music therapy can be a particularly good fit for adolescents and young adults like Alex.  In general, here are some things that might take place in my sessions with older patients at CHOP:

- Discussion of favorite musicians or songs.  There may be themes, messages or attitudes within music that resonate with the patient’s experience.  Sometimes it’s easier to talk about the musical world than the medical world, but the conversation can still be meaningful and therapeutic.

- Creating live music together.  For patients who already play instruments or sing, this can be very normalizing.  For those who don’t, I can teach basic techniques that are age-appropriate, relevant to their tastes and not dependent on hours of practice.  I want to minimize anxiety related to playing or singing, but I also want to give patients a sense of mastery and achievement.

- Technology-assisted music production.  If patients are physically unable to play instruments or sing, I may be able to engage their minds using music production software on laptops, tablets or other devices.  Even if they don’t have physical limitations, many older patients enjoy this kind of work – they might be fans of commercial music produced in this way, or they may feel empowered by all the options that technology offers.

- Listening to music for relaxation.  If patients are not feeling well enough to participate, I sometimes offer to play music for them.  I might take a favorite song that was originally performed by a full band and arrange it as a guitar or piano instrumental.  Younger patients may not recognize the new arrangement, but my older patients usually can.  Following a familiar melody may help distract them from pain or discomfort.

This is not meant to be a complete list by any means.  Before I design any sessions, I listen to what the patients and families have to say.  I may be the trained musician and therapist, but music therapy is a collaborative process, and I learn from my patients every day.  It has been very rewarding to work with someone as articulate and insightful as Alex.  I’m honored to be a member of his treatment team and grateful for this opportunity to contribute to his blog.