Music therapy has been introduced at Lentegeur Hospital to meet an increased need for mental health services among children and teenagers in the province. The introduction is also a first for government healthcare in the Western Cape.Dr Rene Nassen, head of the child and adolescent mental health service at Lentegeur Hospital, says that as a result of increased levels of trauma, abuse and violence, many young people may become withdrawn and non-communicative, or defiant. She adds they may also display aggressive and reckless behaviour that places them at increased risk of developing a substance abuse problem or engaging in criminal and violent activity.The need for child and teen mental health services is apparent in the increased number of them being admitted to the hospital. “More than 140 children and adolescents are admitted to the child and adolescent mental health service each year; the majority being male patients,” says Nassen.“The music therapy project has been active for the past 18 months, offering group and individual sessions for all adolescent inpatients. During last year, more than 300 patient contacts were recorded. Sessions are also offered to younger children, who are referred for music therapy via the outpatients department.” Many of the patients admitted to the unit suffer psychological challenges such as depression, anxiety and personality disorders, schizophrenia or substance-induced psychosis. Music therapy provides an effective alternative to traditional talking therapy, which children and teens sometimes struggle to connect to due to their trauma or psychological state. Because of the flexibility and adaptability of music, patients are exposed to a comfortable, non-threatening and creative environment which promotes feelings of self-esteem and wellbeing, aiding their psychiatric treatment, Nassen says. Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, provincial health minister, applauds this innovative initiative and the positive impact it continues to have on children and teens at Lentegeur Hospital. “Continued research and innovation reaffirm the increasingly important role psychiatry plays in the medical world and society. “An innovation such as the music therapy project takes into consideration the physical, mental, social and behavioural aspects of mental health and enables our multidisciplinary teams to better recognise and treat both the physical and emotional effects of mental disorders,” says Mbombo. Helene Best, a qualified music therapist, administers these sessions in Lentegeur.“I combine active music making and movement with more passive activities such as music listening activities. Active music making may include drumming activities, instrumental improvisations and other music-related activities such as movement (dancing) and singing. During this part of a session, patients are encouraged to be creative and are given the chance to express themselves, thus releasing tension and encouraging them to find their own voice,” she says.“Music listening activities are used to reach adolescents on emotional and cognitive levels. A specific song for the purpose of lyric analysis and discussion is selected, enabling patients to reflect on the meaning of the words used in the song and how they can relate to it.” Best says high-functioning patients are seen separately from lower functioning patients, because the treatment goals for the two groups are different. “Higher functioning patients can tolerate longer sessions and work more cognitively on issues, whereas low-functioning patients can only tolerate shorter sessions, where activities are more physical and active with goals of increased awareness and organisation. Patients with very specific needs are seen individually.”Best, who sees patients at the unit on a weekly basis, says the music therapy has greatly benefited the recovery of patients’ mental and emotional wellbeing. “Music appears to help to increase patients’ motivation and energy levels, they appear more relaxed and socially interactive after a session and the patients seem more spontaneous to take part in activities. I believe that their participation in strength-based mediums such as music therapy assists in strengthening and supporting them in their treatment process as a whole,” says Best. The music therapy project was made possible thanks to a private donor. As a result, the unit has been able to employ a part-time art and music therapist since last year. The project also receives monetary support from the Spring Foundation, a registered non-profit organisation associated with Lentegeur Hospital. Established in 2012, the foundation aims to enable patients to rebuild their mental and physical wellbeing by funding creative therapeutic projects implemented at the hospital. V Anyone interested in partnering or supporting the child and adolescent mental health service at Lentegeur Hospital can contact Dr Rene Nassen at email@example.com or assistant nursing manager Naomi Botha at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 021 370 1498.