Thoughts from Pediatric Oncology

So, this term’s placement has been at the local hospital, in the pediatric oncology ward.

I stepped in on my first day about a month ago (which only means I’ve been in 5 times), not knowing what to expect, hearing stories about children being traumatized and reacting badly to treatment and hospital environments, and wondering what the approach to music therapy would be in this setting.

I’ve learnt that music is so important and relevant in the lives of especially young children. We tend to underestimate how much of our learning during the developmental stages takes place through play, listening and repeating back, singing songs, rhythmic patterns, coordinated movement, imitation, initiation… All of which eventually leads to meaningful communication. For a child in hospital during this stage, being unable to experience life as a “normal” child could have severe adverse effects on their development and psychological growth. One of the main goals of MT in this setting is to provide an environment where the child can still engage in the elements necessary for development, so that they are not as deprived and affected (physically, emotionally, psychologically) by their stay in hospital, some of which can last for the better part of a year.

I’ve been blessed with 2 amazing supervisors this time. Both are unique in their own right, yet are equally experienced and evidence-based, supportive and inclusive. I have never felt inhibited asking them questions, or felt put down in their presence, which is really important for my personal growth. Every week I have a set of readings to complete, reflect on, and discuss with them in relation to the ongoing work in the ward. It’s the sort of reflective practice I love. Being able to read, have the time to process and then bring it to the table for discussion and hear their opinions on it as well – has been immensely rewarding.

On a more personal level, as someone who has never particularly liked kids, especially when they start screaming in public, climbing over seats in public transport, or start pulling your hair while their parents smile on awkwardly… I think I’ve surprised myself by the level of engagement achieved. I suppose it’s easier to feel compassion for kids when they’ve been diagnosed with Leukemia or other forms of life-limiting conditions. But from this experience of working with kids in the hospital, I think I’m also now able to see “normal” kids with more understanding, especially when they’re having melt-down or tantrums etc. From the psychological and developmental and behavioral analysis point of view, I can better understand why they’d act the way they do – they’re responding to their emotional and psychological needs which they themselves might not be able to express or even comprehend properly. Music, as a symbolic form of communication and expression, is hence really useful as a tool and platform to reach kids.

While I’m not a convert to the extent that I’d say “I can’t wait to have a kid of my own!”, this placement has definitely affirmed my capability and openness to working (just working) with children, and I feel thankful to have the role of the music therapist to make it so much more engaging and enjoyable, for the child, family, staff and therapist.

On my recent week there, the supervisor suddenly said: “I think you’ll be ready to go into sessions on your own now.” I felt affirmed, yet…

Going in with my supervisor as the co-therapist and going in on my own as the main therapist is another uncharted territory which understandably evokes feelings of apprehension. But I’m going to embrace it, and do the best I can:)

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