Music Therapy – Profile

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Meet Priscilla Pek, one of Monash Children’s Hospital’s music therapists.  With the twenty year anniversary of music therapy at Monash Health only a few weeks ago we thought we would celebrate the power of music.

For those who don’t know what music therapy is, are you able to explain it?
Music therapy is the planned and creative use of music within a therapeutic relationship to promote or enhance health or wellbeing. It differs from musical entertainment or music education in that our goals are not to perform, or solely teach them music skills – it’s about the therapeutic process through music.

What benefit does music therapy provide to our patients at Monash Children’s Hospital?
Music therapy can benefit our patients (aged 0-18) and their families at MCH through helping them cope with their hospital admission and illness. Engaging in music therapy can decrease their anxiety and distress through giving them a creative outlet to express emotions, express the well-parts of themselves, normalise the hospital environment and enhance their experience of treatment. Music therapy can also provide normal developmental opportunities for our younger patients, and support them during scary and painful medical procedures, through providing distraction or creating a more relaxed environment through live gentle music.

How did you decide you wanted to have this as a career?
In Year 10, I was flicking through the yellow Job Guide we were all given, and that was when I first came across ‘music therapy’. I book-marked that page, as well as computer science, photography, and a whole bunch of others. Clearly, I was unsure – so I did a Bachelor of Arts. But music had always been a big part of my life, having started classical piano at 4 years old. And I’ve always had a keen interest in psychology and working with people. And as it would happen, my choices led me to a Masters in Music Therapy.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is witnessing a young person ‘come alive’ through engaging in a musical process – either singing, playing an instrument, or talking about their music – when they are otherwise flat in mood, disengaged, and don’t display an interest in anything. They appear to forget their worries and to me, this demonstrates the power that music can have for a person.

Have you always had a passion for music?
Growing up in a household that always had music on, and having a family that highly valued the performing arts, the short answer is yes. I honestly couldn’t imagine life without it:
“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable” – George Bernard Shaw

What does a standard session look like?
That’s a hard question to answer, because I believe there is no standard session in paediatrics. It honestly depends how old the patient is, what their needs are, what their musical interests are, whether it’s a family session with parents and siblings present, or whether it’s an individual session, or group session. And then it would look very different again if it were a procedural support session in a treatment room. All I can say to try and capture the diversity, is that sessions can involve a variety of methods, including singing, playing instruments, therapeutic instrumental lessons, listening to music, song-writing, creating playlists for relaxation, or motivation, or distraction from pain.

Do you incorporate more than one instrument into your session and can patients get involved?
Absolutely to both questions. We use many instruments in our sessions depending on the needs of the patient and their family. We have guitars, keyboards, drums, castanets, shakers, bells and many more. Where possible we always encourage patients to either play an instrument or use their voice. One of the fundamental principles of our work is to provide the patients with choice and control, so where possible we encourage the patient and their families to actively participate in the sessions. We know that through actively making music whilst an inpatient it reduces anxiety and increases coping!

What’s your favourite thing about working at Monash Children’s Hospital?
I have two favourite things about working at MCH: The first is the amazing multidisciplinary team of nurses, doctors, admin and other allied health staff who I get to work with every day – I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of this dedicated, passionate and supportive bunch of humans. The second is that I get to make or talk about music every day with some incredible little and not-so-little people, and it is a privilege to be able to work with them, witness their creativity, and have them share their music with me.

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