Music Therapy with Immobile Clients by Tamariskha Tibby

Music therapy has been used as a therapeutic intervention for clients with various differing conditions and settings, including clients with cancer or those in palliative care units. As a music therapy student who have been and are assigned with clients with the conditions mentioned, I would like to share my personal experiences working in such settings.

I am currently working in an institution that facilitates a temporary home for children with cancer. They provide a place for the children and family to rest after receiving treatments from the hospital, as well as to be involved in various positive activities. I started doing music therapy sessions with two clients (client A and Z) since October 16th, 2018. It was a new and challenging experience for me since the clients I have been assigned to are very immobile due to their health conditions. Anxiety and confusion rushes in me, but I still managed to do a complete session with both of the clients together. I did not get any responses from the immobile clients, but from the two mothers. After the lyric-substitution activity, both mother cried. At first, I did not know what this means but my supervisor told me that music therapy with immobile clients is not just for the clients, but for the mothers as well. Music therapy may give them an opportunity to express their emotions, struggle and hope, as well as to facilitate the client’s and the mother’s dyadic relationship which may have been made more difficult due to the client’s health conditions that make them unable to express themselves verbally, or even through movement. After the session ended for the day, I felt like what I lacked was my knowledge of the health conditions of both patients which are brain tumours and cerebral palsy, and my personal repertoire as one of my clients really like Dangdut music. Two weeks have passed since the first session and I was referred to only one client, as client Z would be hospitalised for awhile. For this second session, I tried doing an MAR (Music Assisted Relaxation) technique for 13 minutes to create a sensory stimulation for the client and to give him a sense of relaxation as he was asleep, after I read a journal that says MAR has been used for clients diagnosed with brain tumours. A good thing that I did not witness on the first session happened, when client A moved his left hand on his own, which may also be a reflex reaction done in his sleep. It may seem too simple for many to be considered as a progress, however I see it as a response done by a child who can’t move nor talk on his own at all. Before the session ended, I had quite a long conversation with the mother and gained information about what kind of music the mother likes, and a few more additional informations about the family of the client.

On the fifth week of music therapy, another new things that therapist have not witnessed before in earlier sessions were happening. The client smiled more than twice during the session, first time I saw him smiled was during a conversation with his mother, as she told me about the client’s experiences when he was still able to run and play around with his friends. The second and the third time occurred after I did MAR with the mother and the client, using the same music and narrative as the previous session. From this session I learned that the mother’s emotion, can really influence the child’s own emotion. The mother told me that she was happy we were able to sing her favourite song, as she never really sung that again for a long time, for her child. The mood of the mother that day may have influenced the child as he smiled for a few times during the music therapy session. The client also moved quite a lot, in a stretching-like movements (ngulet) especially during and after the MAR. This particular session gives a renewed motivation for me to give my all into what I am doing. Although personally it is challenging and tiring as I seldom get responses from the immobile child, I was able to see and realise that the power of music is indeed substantial. Even for individuals who cannot speak nor do anything, music still heals them, and everyone with no exception.


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