How Music Therapy Can Help Patients Thrive

How Music Therapy Can Help Patients Thrive

Meet a music therapist who helps pediatric patients cope, stay calm and find their voice.
Morgan Maxwell is a board-certified music therapist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital.

Morgan Maxwell is a board-certified music therapist at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, specializing in support for critical and medically complex patients.

“Being a music therapist is a great honor, especially in the pediatric medical environment,” she says. “I get to help children find their voices, manage their pain, cope through a hard procedure, and truly help them get to be what they deserve to be—kids.”

What does a typical day look like for you?

A day in the hospital typically holds diverse patient interactions featuring instrument play to support developmental milestones, songwriting about what it is like to have a new diagnosis, helping patients relax after surgery in the pediatric intensive care unit, and more.

I specialize in supporting critical and medically complex patients, actively assessing and adapting to support their needs in the hospital through music.

How does music serve as therapy for children at the hospital?

Music therapy helps kids to feel safe in an unfamiliar, scary environment. I provide opportunities for children to make choices in their care, allowing them to freely express their anxieties, fears and experiences.

Research supports how music can positively impact our bodies and our brains to support developmental milestones, stress management, relaxation and much more when provided by a Board-Certified Music Therapist (MT-BC).

What’s your favorite instrument to play with kids?

I absolutely love the guitar. In the children’s hospital, the guitar is interesting, engaging and everyone wants to touch it! We can play a kiddo’s preferred tune and jam out, or we can create a calm environment when we are focused on healing in the intensive care unit.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

I get to witness the resilience and magic that follows children every single day. Countless times, I have seen children recover from incredibly hard diagnoses and situations. While not every outcome is positive, getting to partner with a child from the beginning to the end of their treatment is such an honor.

How did you get into music therapy?

When I was still in high school, my grandmother suffered from a memory disorder. One day, I was able to bring music to her bedside. She suddenly became aware and began talking with me and my family. In that moment, I knew there had to be something important happening. Little did I know there was an entire profession focused on the neurological impact of music.

You have specialized training to use music to support the brain development of babies in the NICU who were born pre-term. Can you explain how that works?

Neonates tend to be in the hospital for an extended amount of time when they would typically still be in the womb. Music therapy humanizes an otherwise medicalized environment.

In the hospital, disruptive sounds (like medical devices and television) and touch (like procedures) happen frequently. NICU music therapy counteracts the effects of negative stimuli to encourage a positive association with touch and sound. This supports not only the baby’s development but also the family’s connection to the baby.

Do you have a favorite patient story/experience?

Most of my favorite patient stories feature songwriting and a dramatic progression of my patients’ health.

I worked with a young girl who was in the ICU due to a car accident. She was regularly in a lot of pain and struggled to adjust to the medical environment. In our first session, I helped her manage her pain through music and guided imagery. Soon after, music therapy became her safe space.

She would write songs about the hospital, her nurses, her parents, and everything that was hard about being hurt. She bounced back and forth from having good days in the hospital to requiring more medical support.

Despite the changes in her health, music therapy helped her to remain calm and have an outlet to express. As she improved, we even began learning how to play the ukulele to teach a coping skill she could use as she transitioned to a new facility to help rehab her movements.

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