Music Therapy at home during COVID-19 – the Bear Cottage experience

Categories: Care, Category, Featured, and Highlight.

The richness of the Bear Cottage culture has made it possible for me to transition to providing online Zoom music therapy sessions with an ease which has taken me by surprise.  Working from home, as I am at present, could potentially have become a very isolating experience. However, the strength of the Bear Cottage team, means that although we are separated geographically, we still work collaboratively.  We continue to communicate by email, telephone and Zoom to provide all-important handovers.

There is a strong sense of a shared sense of purpose in the team at Bear Cottage.  One of the nursing staff at Bear Cottage is working to connect with all the families who come to Bear Cottage by phone.  One of the things she asks during these regular calls is whether a family may be interested in attending Zoom Music Therapy sessions.  Our administrative officer then collates these names, providing me with all the details I need in order to make contact them and set up sessions.

As part of the Allied Health Team, I work closely with our Child Life Therapists and Social Workers.  Gy, one of the Bear Cottage Child Life Therapists, works as a co-facilitator of our group Zoom sessions and not only does he have expertise with technology, but importantly, as co-therapists, we are able to complement the contribution of one another.  In particular, Gy brings an extra dimension to the music, visually bringing songs to life with his skills in puppetry. While some of our children may have visual impairments, for those who are non-verbal, the puppet prompts are invaluable in visually augmenting the music I present.

Annabelle working via zoom

There is also a different aspect to presenting music therapy sessions via Zoom which I had not anticipated.  I have become quickly aware that I am being invited into the living rooms of families, into their private space.  This is quite different from running sessions in the garden or sensory room at Bear Cottage.  It means that I am able to connect with people where they are at, in whatever situation the day may have brought them.

During this phase of social distancing, families are finding themselves meeting the new challenges.  In the wider community, it would be surprising to find anyone who is not experiencing some level of stress with these sudden and wide-ranging changes to our way of life.

While making music with families is hopefully a time of fun, relaxation and enjoyment during this time of stress, it is also much more than mere entertainment.  The way in which children and parents interact in a music therapy session is not discrete or separate from the ways in which they communicate and relate in daily life.

As a Registered Music Therapist, I am able to observe these patterns of communication.  Music is wonderful, because it may help us to communicate with one another simultaneously on different levels.  We may use words, but we may also use tone of voice or movement to express ourselves.

When I see mothers and fathers expressing tenderness towards their children, perhaps by the way in which they move close towards them and smile, I am able to emphasise this strength by singing a song which in some way highlights this.  If I see cooperation and love between siblings, again, this is something which can be positively reinforced by the music.  The possibilities are as limitless as the interactions I observe, for music provides lyrics and melody and volume and speed, a myriad of ways to express that something has been communicated and is understood.

In other words, during this time, by positively reinforcing these kinds of interactions, it is possible to further develop family strengths and thus foster emotional resilience.  When we are feeling resilient, we have greater strength and capacity to deal with the challenges of daily living.

There are also times when my clinical skills enable me to see that a family would be assisted with resources other than those brought by music therapy.  This is when the strength of the multi-disciplinary team at Bear Cottage comes into its own, and I am able to share my observations with my manager, the social worker and nursing staff. Each of us has a different and specific role with the children and their families. By sharing our observations with one another, we work together to ensure that families receive optimum care.

Annabelle in her ‘normal’ role pre COVID-19

When working onsite at Bear Cottage, much of my work is around providing social interactions for the children and their families through music on a daily basis and, very importantly, using music for memory-making towards the end of children’s lives.

During this pandemic, however, I have become aware that my role has expanded.  As I meet families in their homes, providing, it is hoped, some music to uplift them during these challenging times, I am also fostering resilience by encouraging the strengths I see in each family, working together with the multidisciplinary team at Bear Cottage to ensure that their complex needs are addressed.

While I may be working in what appears to be the isolation of my own home, I am in fact closely connected with my colleagues who support me in a myriad of ways to adapt my working style to these particular times, enabling me to provide music therapy sessions in a whole new way.

An example of one of Annabelles zoom sessions can be found here.