Notes of Healing: Music Therapy Program Helps Little Patients at Huntsville Hospital

A young boy holds maracas and participates in the music therapy program during his visit to Huntsville Hospital.
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Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children can be a big place for its littlest patients, but that doesn’t mean it has be a scary one. Mixed in with the various whirs of machines and beeps of monitors, one might be surprised to hear the gentle strains of a guitar or the excited beats of a drum from the hospital’s music therapy program.

Kate Leonard, a music therapist at the hospital is called in to help kids with their anxiety over a procedure like a lab draw or IV placement. She says music therapy is the perfect way to make the hospital environment less scary for both kids and adults alike.

“Music is just such a powerful tool because it connects to our emotions and memory. It connects to so many different parts of our brain and it’s really just a way to bring healing and especially in the hospital environment, it’s non-threatening. It’s something to meet the child where they are,” Leonard said.

Music Therapy in Action

Although the goal is to help patients refocus and relax, the magic happens when they get lost in the music. Leonard says you can visibly see the difference in their vitals and in the way that they carry themselves after a session. And the truly magical part is that it can be beneficial to the parents or caregivers that are having to watch their child struggle.

A typical music therapy session might include some time with Leonard or her team playing guitar and singing. She may also bring in a drum or keyboard for the child to make their own music or help them create their own song using GarageBand. After playing and being creative, she says the entire environment is changed.

An equally important facet of the music therapy program is providing end of life care. The program partners with the arts and healing program at the hospital to record a patient’s heartbeat and pair it with music that’s then placed in a handmade box as a keepsake for the family.

A NICU baby is hooked up to a pacifier activated lullaby device that plays music to encourage sucking behaviors.
A baby in the NICU at Huntsville Hospital benefits from a pacifier activated lullaby device.

Another special way that the music therapy program is used is in the NICU. The hospital’s tiniest of patients benefit from special pacifiers that teach them how to use their sucking reflex.

“I am using a device called the Pacifier Activated Lullaby device. I use this in the NICU to help premature infants learn proper sucking behaviors. As they suck on the pacifier, music plays in response and acts as a positive reinforcement. I also love recording parents’ voices on the device so that their baby can hear them and bond even when they are unable to be at the bedside,” Leonard said.

Through music and creating together, Leonard says the program elevates patients’ healing. Beyond learning to play an instrument, the program aims to make a scary time easier for all involved. Learn more about Leonard and her music therapy team in the video above or on their website. You can also help support the program through donations.

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