A Day in the Life of a Music Therapist

Published on in Children's View

Day in the Life of a Music TherapistKathleen Summers, MA, MT- BC, has been a music therapist at CHOP since 2013. This is a day in her life.

5:50 a.m.

Wakes up. Takes her 5-year-old miniature schnauzer for a walk.

7:20 a.m.

Catches an express train.

8:15 a.m.

Arrives at CHOP, picks up a coffee and heads to the eighth-floor office she shares with six other creative arts therapists.

8:26 a.m.

Talks with Elana Brewer, MS, CCLS, director of Child Life, Education and Creative Arts Therapy, about things she’d like to offer in the Newborn/Infant Intensive Care Unit (N/IICU). Top of her list? Environmental music therapy, in which a therapist plays a guitar or dulcimer in the same key as other sounds in the unit, such as the beeps of the babies’ monitors. It’s been shown to help babies sleep more soundly, and Summers thinks it would benefit caregivers and staff, too.

9:22 a.m.

Guitar strapped to her back, infant-size instruments in hand, Summers heads to the N/IICU for a session with a baby who’s on strict contact precautions because of a compromised immune system. Wearing gloves, mask and gown, Summers plays several songs on her guitar, observing how the baby is responding and adjusting the music accordingly. “He’s probably my most challenging patient right now,” she says. “He has many needs, and I’m still assessing how to best address them.”

10:15 a.m.

Joins a psychologist, physical therapist and occupational therapist for N/IICU rounds. They check on several patients — most of whom have been referred to the team for irritability and inconsolability — and brainstorm about how to help them.
Summers adds four babies to her list for music therapy.

12:30 p.m.

It’s standing room only at the Child Life, Education and Creative Arts Therapy staff meeting. Summers eats a salad. A dog from the Hospital’s pet therapy program naps on the floor.

1:30 p.m.

Picks up her supply cart, stocked with keyboards, a xylophone, castanets, a drum pad, a ukulele and other instruments.

1:35 p.m.

“Do you want to do music therapy?” Summers asks Joey, 4. “Yeah!” he says. The two jam together, Summers on guitar and Joey on drum pads. It looks like pure improvisation, but it’s very intentional: Summers plays “Monkeys on the Bed” to help Joey learn to count, and she sings a special farewell song because she knows he has trouble with transitions. “Goodbye Joey,” she sings at the end of the session. “Music time is done.”

2:55 p.m.

Through an interpreter, Summers introduces herself to the father of a baby she met earlier on rounds. She wants to make sure he’s comfortable with the idea of music therapy, and she explains its goals carefully. They schedule a session for next week.

3:02 p.m.

Logs in to CHOP’s electronic medical record system to update her patients’ charts. “Infant’s heart rate appeared to lower during the session,” she types. “Mom noted infant’s positive response to music by commenting on how relaxed he seemed.”

3:10 p.m.

Summers is thrilled when an 8-month-old patient brings her hands together to grasp a tiny purple maraca. “I know this is a developmental milestone for her,” she says.

4:51 p.m.

Back in her office, Summers assembles a binder of song lyrics for one of her teen patients. During their session tomorrow, she’ll use the lyrics as a starting point to help the teen explore her feelings about her illness. Like all of CHOP’s music therapists, Summers is trained in psychology and counseling techniques and incorporates them into her sessions. “It’s all about using music as an anchor to support her in the here and now,” she says.

5:16 p.m.

Walks to the train station with a co-worker.

6:32 p.m.

Eats dinner: chicken, rice and green beans.

8 p.m.

Plays a few songs on her keyboard to relax.

12:30 p.m.

Bedtime!