Music therapy: Hitting the right notes in medical treatment

Music therapy: Hitting the right notes in medical treatment

938LIVE reports: Special education schools and hospitals are increasingly tapping on music therapy programmes to help aid treatment.

Music therapy

SINGAPORE: For those suffering from diseases and conditions such as chronic pain, autism and even cancer, music is emerging as an accepted and useful form of treatment.

Special education schools are offering music therapy as part of their curriculum for students with learning disabilities, while some hospitals have turned to music as a complementary therapy for patients - for example, alongside cancer treatment.

Two-year-old Serene is one such patient. She has already gone through chemotherapy and multiple treatments for leukemia, and suffered common side effects such as loss of appetite and nausea.


She is still at the KK Women's and Children's Hospital, but her mother Sri Rajini said music has helped keep her spirits high. She enrolled her daughter for music therapy sessions a month ago.

"Serene knows when to start a tune and knows when to end the song,” Ms Rajini said. “For example when we sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle’, she knows the song and she's excited about it; and when the song ends with ‘stars’, she says it in her own words."

WATCH: Music therapy is emerging as an accepted form of treatment. Leukaemia patient Serene is getting support at KK Women's and Children's Hospital while Raouf gets help with his autism at Rainbow Centre Margaret Drive.

Posted by 938LIVE on Wednesday, 28 October 2015

"It's just normalised play. Sometimes in this environment, there might be fear of people coming in, strangers... and then they might be afraid of needles, injections, painful procedures,” the hospital’s Senior Music Therapist Melanie Kwan said.

“So when we go in, we bring in drums, things that are colourful and bright, and just let them play. It'll help them during the day, sometimes even between extra procedures. For example, putting on ointments, it helps them not to cry so much."

KK Women's and Children's Hospital started its music therapy programme for children in 2007. In 2009, a similar programme was extended to women with cancer and those suffering from illnesses such as depression.


Special education school Rainbow Centre also offers music therapy for some of its 100 students with learning disabilities. A student with autism will typically attend a weekly one-on-one session lasting half an hour, during which a variety of instruments, from drums to xylophones, will be used.

“For music therapy session, we focus on what the child is able to do,” said the school’s Senior Music Therapist Loi Wei Ming. “For example, if the child is not able to interact with a person, we might structure the music therapy sessions to facilitate the interactions between the child and the music therapist, or between the child and another peer in the session as well."


The Ain Society also makes use of music therapy for its cancer patients. The voluntary welfare organisation started weekly Kolintang classes for children with cancer last year. Kolintang is a traditional Javanese music instrument usually played in groups.

Unlike the sessions at special schools and hospitals, Kolintang classes are facilitated by a counsellor instead of a certified music therapist.

Kolintang classes at Ain Society

"Kolintang taps on your ability to work together in a team, so each of us depends on one another. Aside from building social support among the players, it also helps them in terms of coordination, the left and the right brain," counsellor Nor Hashimah Kamarudin said.

“Usually for people who are diagnosed with cancer, they undergo treatment like chemotherapy. So when they try to learn new things - particularly music - it'll help them to feel much better cognitively and emotionally."

Leukaemia patient Aniasyrara Anwar is one person who has benefited from it. The 14-year-old recalled the pain from frequent injections and blood tests, but said Kolintang played an important role in her recovery.

"With Kolintang, I can't feel the pain because it relieves my stress, and I didn't think about the things that are upsetting me which is the pain from the treatment."

She is now in remission, and traditional treatments and therapy will still be the order of the day for many. But for a few, music therapy may help hit the right note in their recovery.

Source: 938LIVE/ww