Music Therapy aiding Mental Health recovery In Children and Adolescents | Western Cape Government



Music Therapy aiding Mental Health recovery In Children and Adolescents

26 July 2017

The Western Cape Government Health continues to see a noticeable increase in children and adolescents accessing mental health services in the province. To address this need, Lentegeur Hospital continues to research innovative treatment interventions for young patients and has successfully introduced Music Therapy – a first for the public sector 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Hospital, says that as a result of the increased levels of trauma, abuse and violence, many young people may become withdrawn and non-communicative, or defiant. They may also display aggressive and reckless behaviour patterns that place them at increased risk of developing a substance abuse problem, or engaging in criminal and violent activity.

The need for child and adolescent mental health services is apparent in the admission rates to the facility. “More than 140 children and adolescents are admitted to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service each year, the majority being male patients.

“The Music Therapy project has been active for the past 18 months, offering group and individual sessions for all adolescent inpatients. During 2016, more than 300 patient contacts were recorded. Sessions are also offered to younger children, who are referred for Music Therapy via the Outpatients Department,” explains Nassen. 

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 verbal (talk) therapies, which children and adolescents 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. 

Minister of Health, Dr Nomafrench Mbombo, applauds this innovative initiative and the positive impact it continues to have on children and adolescents at Lentegeur Hospital. “Continued research and innovation reaffirms the increasingly important role psychiatry plays in the medical world and society. An innovation such as 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, explains how these sessions may play out: “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.”

“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,” explains Best. 

Best says that high functioning patients are seen separately from lower functioning patients, because the treatment goals for the two groups will be 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 on a weekly basis at the Unit, says that 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,” concludes Best. 

The Music Therapy project was made possible with the generosity of a private donor. As a result, the unit was able to employee a part time Art and Music Therapist in 2016 and 2017. The project also receives monetary support from The Spring Foundation, a registered non-profit organisation (NPO) associated with Lentegeur Hospital. Established in 2012, The Spring Foundation aims are to enable patients to rebuild their mental and physical wellbeing by funding creative therapeutic projects implemented at the facility.

Should you be interested in partnering or supporting the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service at Lentegeur Hospital you can contact Dr Rene Nassen on or Mrs. Naomi Botha, Assistant Nursing Manager at Lentegeur Hospital on or via 021 370 1498

Media Enquiries: 

Bianca Carls
Communications Officer
CD: General Specialist and Emergency Services 
Western Cape Government Health

Landline:        021 815 8710
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