Using music as medicine

Music therapist Helene Best hosts weekly sessions at Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital.

Lentegeur Psychiatric Hospital has become the first public hospital in the province to introduce music therapy as a treatment intervention for young patients with mental health conditions.

Health MEC Dr Nomafrench Mbombo applauded the initiative and the positive impact it has on children and adolescents at the hospital.

“An innovation such as music therapy project takes into consideration the physical, mental, social and behavioural aspects of mental health and enables our multidisciplinary teams to better recognise and treat both the physical and emotional effect of mental disorders,” said Dr Mbombo.

Head of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service at Lentegeur Hospital, Dr Rene Nassen, said as a result of the increased levels of trauma, abuse, and violence, many young people may become withdrawn and non-communicative or defiant. She said they may also display aggressive and reckless behaviour patterns which make them more susceptible to developing a substance abuse problem or engaging in criminal and violent activity.

“More than 140 children and adolescents are admitted to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service each year, with the majority being male patients,” she said.

“The music therapy project has been active for the past 18 months, offering group and individual sessions for all adolescent in-patients.

“In 2016, more than 300 patient contacts were recorded.

“Sessions are also offered to younger children who are referred for music therapy via the out-patient department,” she explained.

She said many patients admitted to the unit suffered from depression, anxiety and personality disorders, schizophrenia or substance-induced psychosis.

Dr Nassen explained that music therapy provided an effective alternative to traditional verbal therapies which children and adolescents sometimes struggled to connect with due to their trauma or psychological state.

“Because of the flexibility and adaptability of music, patients are exposed to a comfortable, non-threatening and creative environment which promotes feelings of self esteem and well-being, aiding their psychiatric treatment,” she said.

Music therapist Helene Best explained how these sessions are conducted.

“I combine active music-making and movement with more passive activities such as music listening activities.

“Active music-making may include drumming activities, instrumental improvisations and other music-related activities such as movement (dancing) and singing. During this part of a session, patients are encouraged to be creative and are given the chance to express themselves and release tension, and encouraging them to find their own voice,” she said.

Ms Best said music listening activities were used to reach adolescents on emotional and cognitive levels. “A specific song for the purpose of lyric analysis and discussion is selected, enabling patients to reflect on the meaning of the words used in the song and how they can relate to it,” she explained.

Ms Best, who sees patients on a weekly basis at the unit, said the music therapy had greatly benefited the recovery of patients’ mental and emotional well-being.