As a musician and songwriter with a master's degree in Music Therapy, Vanya Green, board-certified music therapist, knows "we don't need words, just sounds to change our environment."
What do you do as a music therapist? As part of Child Life/Child Development Services at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital, I work with the child-life specialists to support children coping with their hospitalization. I work primarily with patients in the pediatric ICU, as well as the hematology oncology unit. Medical or support staff refer patients for music therapy.
I spend time getting to know the patient and family, to develop and implement goals tailored to each patient to gauge progress. There are several common interventions that I use. One example is visualization through musical imagery for an anxious or stressed patient. Another is adaptation of a popular song to help increase communication and expression, encouraging patients to make musical choices and "conduct" the music to increase their sense of autonomy and control. I also offer therapeutic voice or guitar lessons for both rehabilitation and increased confidence.
During my master's program, I did an internship at Beth Abraham, a neuro-rehab facility in the Bronx, New York, where I worked with stroke and paralysis patients in a recording studio, which inspired me to create one here at UCLA.
The recording studio that we are building in conjunction with Music to Heal and the Pediatric Pain Program will be embedded in one of our existing playrooms on the third floor. We will have industry-standard software, which enables patients to play virtual instruments of their choice on the computer, or even play real instruments and record those live. During the composition and recording process, they can hear their work in headphones or in Surround Sound,TM and watch the recording on a large projector screen. These opportunities will enable patients to create their own space and sense of self.
How did you train to become a music therapist? I have a master's degree from New York University and board certification, which is determined on a national level. After completing the program, I went to Israel on a Fulbright fellowship, where I studied and performed Middle Eastern music. This experience, as well as studying flamenco music in southern Spain, helped to open my breadth of musical understanding and gave me skills that are critical to my work with the diverse population here at UCLA. I have experience working with a wide range of populations, from infants to the elderly, and also specialize in working with people suffering from chronic pain.
What has been the response to the program so far? One thing that is really special about this work is that we don't need words, just sound to change our environment. We create something contagious in the hospital that is actually good to catch! I often find nurses and other support staff coming by and dancing or singing, or asking for more music therapy. I find that these experiences energize the staff, patients and families.
How do you use music to help patients? I was working with two patients in the playroom. They both were given drums and I had my guitar. They began to sing an impromptu version of "We Will, We Will Rock You." After several times around, I asked them about the meaning of the song and what they were trying to beat. "Cancer!" one of them said. We proceeded to work together to change the words of the song to be about beating cancer, complete with lyrics, such as "cancer is a stinky little bug," and ending with "cancer is a moth that quickly multiplies, but we'll turn it into a butterfly." The children then posted this song in their rooms and sang it with me and on their own at various times during their hospitalization. We used their humor and their poetry to create a "soundtrack" to inspire them. My background in psychology helps guide the interventions so that we meet individual needs, without pushing too hard. The fact that music is so much a part of our lives makes it a non-threatening format for our work. Both children who internalize their concerns and those who externalize their feelings can be reached by the opportunity to engage in music therapy in a safe and supportive environment.
How do you cope with the heartache you see around you? All of us feel a great deal of compassion for the patients and their families. We can go home and let it go, but they have it on their minds 24/7. It's very hard to see sick kids when we associate childhood with freedom and lack of worries. I enjoy the opportunity to spend time with our children here, to have fun with them and perhaps, in rare moments, to find meaning.
Click here to learn more about the Music Therapy Program at UCLA Mattel Children's Hospital.