SVH: In the News — Music Therapy


Have you ever noticed how you feel better when you listen to music? Music can take your mind off your problems, make a difficult physical task easier to handle, relieve stress and help the mind and body work together.

It is this simple, but profound, concept that is the basis for the new music therapy program at Simi Valley Hospital’s Child Development Center (CDC). The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) celebrates 50 years of existence this year, having grown out of a movement to use music in the healing process of soldiers from World Wars I and II. Medical professionals found that music not only boosted morale, but also aided recovery of the wounded soldiers. Over time, it has been discovered that music promotes healing in a variety of circumstances with patients of all ages and many different diagnoses.

Linda Cook, MT-BC, is the CDC’s music therapist. She began at the Center in March, and now works with children ranging in age from toddlers to teens. She meets with her young clients in a variety of settings, but with music always at the core.

“Especially for children ages one to eight, there is a critical window of opportunity when the brain is still developing,” Cook said. “It is very important for children to be exposed to music during that time. Listening to music promotes the development of neurons in the brain in a way that helps children learn language, math and science.”

With her youngest clients, Cook plays the guitar and sings, while the children participate in the music with percussion instruments and movement. Older children get involved in other ways during their group sessions, including singing, using instruments, doing movements and dance. They also participate in fun learning exercises, including songs that teach concepts such as left, right, forward and backwards.

Along with using music to stimulate children’s minds and bodies, Cook often works with occupational and physical therapists to use music to help children get through difficult or challenging therapy sessions. “Music acts as a structure to facilitate the movement or as a distraction to give the children something pleasurable so they don’t think about the unpleasantness of the task at hand,” she said.

Cook has also begun a weekly program at Family Connection, SVH’s childcare service. During the 45-minute sessions, the young musicians play percussion instruments, sing and learn movement songs.

Music therapy combines a variety of skills and interests for Cook into one extremely enjoyable and rewarding package, she said. For 10 years, she worked as a pre-school music teacher, then took a job at a daytime facility for developmentally delayed adults.

“I always have had an interest in music and in working with children. I became interested in working with special needs children from my experiences at the daytime facility,” she said.

With her interest running high in the field of music therapy, Cook completed a degree program at Cal State-Northridge, then became board certified in music therapy.

Music therapy, Cook said, can be used with patients in five specific ways, including:

  • Music as a carrier of information
    Songs such as the “ABC Song” uses the melody line to help children memorize important information.
  • Music as a reinforcer
    Since most people love music, it can be used as a reward for completing a particular task.
  • Music as a background
    Music can facilitate other activities, such as creating artwork or participating in other learning activities.
  • Music as a physical structure
    The length of a song can be used to mark the length of a certain task that must be completed, such as a physical exercise.
  • Music as a reflection of skills
    The development of a child can be gauged, in part, by how the child interacts with the music therapist, how they handle musical instruments, whether or not they are using the instrument correctly, and so forth.

Posted 7-13-00