Helping our people hit the high notes

Our Music Therapy Team have recently expanded their repertoire to assist their colleagues at Monash Health with the power of music.

Amy Thomas, our Head of Music, Art, and Child Life Therapies, and the team took some time to explain how music therapy is helping through these challenging times.

Amy Thomas – Head of Music

For those who haven’t experienced it, can you describe what Music Therapy is?
Music Therapy is a research-based practice and profession in which music actively supports people as they strive to improve their health, functioning, and wellbeing. Music Therapists incorporate a variety of music-making methods as part of a therapeutic relationship with patients and their families. We include singing, songwriting, instrument playing, or active music listening. Music offers an accessible way for people to connect, communicate, express themselves, and maintain their identity amongst so much change and uncertainty. When people feel unwell, it can be a significant part of a person’s healthcare.

What are the most significant changes to what you and the team do since the COVID-19 pandemic started?
While we made adjustments to some of the clinical practice processes in line with government and organisation guidelines and restrictions, demand for our clinical services across the organisation continued to remain high. Employees have identified music therapy as being essential in supporting the psychosocial care of patients and their families, particularly with visitor restrictions, increased isolation, and anxiety.

Medical, Nursing, and Allied Health employees have also identified how music can benefit their self-care and their team. So we decided to help facilitate the use of music as a resource to support employee self-care on some of the wards where we work. This has been the most significant change to our service.

What types of challenges have you and the team had to overcome for COVID-19, and how did you do this?
Music therapy traditionally involves connecting with activities face-to-face. We’ve had to make adjustments to how we facilitate music interventions, overcome the reduced music equipment accessible to patients, and still ensure we are providing the best care we can. We are no longer running groups in most areas, and this changes our workflows.

We are, however, exploring telehealth for music sessions in the community, and for our inpatients. Virtual platforms are great, but as anyone who has tried teleconferencing will tell you, sharing music simultaneously across these platforms has some challenges with feedback and synchronicity. You can end up with some unintentionally interesting compositions!

Have you noticed a change in what patients and employees are asking for when it comes to Music Therapy since COVID-19?
In adult mental health, we have been running groups in different ways to support patients and our colleagues in the extended care environment. What’s been interesting are the requests from employees to play music with them when they’ve been feeling fatigued and overwhelmed.

We are also noticing how music automatically brings people together by facilitating a shared listening experience, even though they can’t gather in large groups. At Kingston, one of our clinicians was working with a gentleman individually in an open area, and very quickly, other patients came out of their rooms to listen and be involved at a safe distance.

We hear that you’ve been providing Music Therapy to our colleagues. How did this come about and what has it involved?
Music is such a valuable way to support everyone’s health and wellbeing and is certainly something our team would like to provide more of at Monash Health. The pandemic has brought this to the fore as we changed our practices and looked at supporting people on a broader scale. Most of this support to employees has been instigated by the teams themselves, identifying changes in the environment and requesting help for them to feel supported while at work.

At Monash Children’s Hospital, the medical team requested 15 minutes of music therapy weekly in their morning handover with music therapy teams facilitating group singing with appropriate physical distancing. At McCulloch House and Kingston, our team has been providing environmental music in the communal areas of the wards for employees. Sometimes this was organised, at other times, it happened organically after requests for some live music when our team moved through departments, and clinical teams wanted some temporary respite.

Do you and the team take requests? And what is the most popular one?
We know that familiar music is preferred and provides a powerful feeling of connection with others, offering an emotional release. Our team has encouraged employees to let them know about favourite songs, which they then try and incorporate.

We’ve had varying requests from David Bowie to Fleetwood Mac and Ed Sheeran. We even had a request for ‘Happy Birthday’ for a Registrar at McCulloch House and were able to sing this as an interdisciplinary team over Webex!

What are you and the team most looking forward to when the pandemic is over?
With the broad use of music across all communities and the changes we have implemented in service delivery during this time, our team is looking forward to exploring how we move forward following COVID-19. We want to strengthen the facilitation, connections, support, and communication for our patients, families, and Monash Health employees.

It will be great to have the telehealth option for our services, particularly to help connect family members who don’t live locally with patients in the hospital. There is also the opportunity here to support community clients who may struggle with anxiety issues to ‘warm-up’ for sessions remotely and feel more comfortable about what to expect before coming for a face-to-face appointment.

Amy has also been part of an international group of music therapy managers, which was formed to support music therapy teams during this time of COVID-19.
Amy describes this exciting initiative, “Monash Health was the first Australian healthcare provider to get onboard this service. It was created to support practice changes, and methods of facilitating music sessions via virtual platforms to explore how music is supporting healthcare workers transitioning from hospital to home in their mental health and self-care. We’re excited for this to continue and inform our evidence-based practice and services even beyond this time. We want to build international relationships and ensure that Monash Health’s music therapy service is world-leading in providing exceptional care to our community.”

A final word on how music therapy has helped should go to the teams that have enjoyed the sessions so far.
Dr Cathy McAdam, explained how the Adolescent Paediatric Fellow suggested music therapy as part of a wellbeing strategy and early indications are they’d love it to continue. “I already knew about the scientific findings that music can maintain wellbeing during stressful times. Our junior medical staff are a strong team, and music therapy has cemented that bond even further. They hum and sing and rib each other about swapping words in popular songs. One week we had, ‘It’s raining phlegm’, instead of men! Other weeks have had beautiful harmony. The humour and camaraderie generated in the sessions go a long way to providing positivity during their shifts,” said Cathy.

Thank you to Amy and the Music Therapy Team for maintaining an uplifting experience throughout uncertain times for our patients, their families and our colleagues at Monash Health.

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