Immaculata Magazine Summer 2014 - page 43

“It can be really hard,” said Kathleen Esbensen Summers ’11,
’13 M.A. “But I look at it like it’s something positive I can do.” She
provides music therapy services at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
(CHOP), working with a range of patients, including infants in
intensive care, children awaiting heart transplants, and teenagers
undergoing dialysis.
“I can’t change much about the situation that some of my patients
are in, but I can be here in the moment, and I can provide this positive
experience of the music, which I’m so passionate about. And it really
feels like a gift to be able to do that.”
While studying at Immaculata, Summers received that gift herself
through role-playing exercises in her classes, where she experienced
what it might be like to receive music therapy. When she interned at
CHOP, she was able to empathize with her patients, and she found it
rewarding to see what a difference music made for them.
In her current job at CHOP, she uses voice, guitar, percussion, and
piano to establish a relationship with her patients, to provide a more
calming environment for them, and to help some of them make music
of their own. She often uses improvisation to engage with patients,
adapting the way she plays to respond to their needs and meet them
wherever they are.
Sessions look different depending on the age and condition of the
patient, Summers said. Teenagers with chronic illnesses sometimes
see themselves as different compared to their peers, so Summers does
songwriting and lyric analysis with them “to help them form a sense
of their own identity within this musical interaction and therapeutic
relationship.” She knows younger children enjoy call-and-response or
fill-in-the-blank songs. “For that moment, they’re forgetting they’re in
the hospital, they’re just being a kid, and having fun.”
A study of music therapy’s effect on premature infants has
influenced Summers’ work with babies and parents. Researchers
found that live music can improve bonding, reduce stress for parents,
and help regulate babies’ heart rate, breathing, sleep, and feeding
“When I’m singing to a baby, I’m really paying attention to
their cues,” Summers said. She looks for any signs of agitation or
disengagement, such as turning away from the sound or an increased
heart rate. She often plays lullabies with a “rocking feel” to provide a
calming environment and to promote parent-infant bonding.
“The infant is connected to the parent so much at this stage of
life, so working with the family really is helping the infant as well,”
she said. If a mother holding her baby can relax as Summers creates
a soothing musical experience, the baby’s heart rate may decrease to
Kathleen Esbensen Summers ’11, ’13 M.A.
match the mother’s. “I always encourage
the parents to sing themselves,”
Summers added. “It’s something they
can do for their baby at this time when
they really don’t have much control.”
For her own relaxation, Summers
enjoys listening to a range of different
music, especially Mumford and Sons,
Norah Jones, and Coldplay. She also
tries to take care of herself by doing
things she enjoys—yoga, singing, and
catching up with friends. “I would
like to do more creative things just for
myself, for my own well-being … to sort of express my own
emotional experience working here,” she said.
Summers’ experience with music therapy, both at
Immaculata and at CHOP, has been rewarding. “It’s sort of a
musical conversation, an interaction that doesn’t require words, a
way to connect with somebody through music.”
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