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Music therapy room provides healing space

Olivia Houck, the pediatric music therapist at Cardon Children's Medical Center, laughs as she talks about the hospital's new music therapy room dubbed Sophie's Place. (Shelley Ridenour/MyNewsMesa.com)

Patients at Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa have a new option to express themselves, relax and experience the healing power of music.

Sophie’s Place opened March 30, the first of its kind in Arizona and just the third in the United States. It features a recording studio, a listening station, a practice room, performance space and room for group and private music therapy sessions.

All sorts of cool musical instruments are available for kids to use, ranging from simple shakers for younger patients to drums for all ages to guitars for older kids.

Some patients spend so much time evaluating all the instrument choices they don’t even get around to trying to make music during their visit, Cardon Music Therapist Olivia Houck said.

But, so far, the ukuleles are proving especially popular, she said.

“They are nice and light for little hands and little people,” Houck said.

Houck has been conducting weekly group activities for patients. The frequency of such sessions depends on the number of patients in the hospital who want to take advantage of the music therapy option. Besides group events, she offers individual therapy in Sophie’s Place, or in a patient’s room, when that’s necessary.

Open hours for different age groups are also offered, Houck said.

She’s convinced Sophie’s Place is already making a difference for patients.

At a recent open session for kids 10 and older, two girls – around age 12 – met and found they had music in common. They didn’t know one another until that day, but as they played the ukulele and drums they learned they were both in their school bands and their hospital rooms were on the same floor.

“Their families were with them,” Houck said, and got to hear the girls talk about how they looked forward to getting back to school.

“That interaction would never have happened before, Steve Cummings, Cardon rehabilitation director, said, because the girls would have had individual in-patient music therapy.

Providing a place for patients to “remember the good and positive” about their hospital stay is important, Cummings said. And, Sophie’s Place does just that.

Houck is excited about the dedicated space for music therapy.

“It’s truly an environmental change,” she said. “It’s displaced from the normal hospital environment. It’s unique, fun and enjoyable. It’s being in a different space and it’s far from a gloomy space.” Plus, she pointed out, “music is a conversation starter,” as demonstrated by the two girls who met in the therapy room.

Houck expects one of the primary uses of the recording studio inside Sophie’s Place to benefit Cardon’s tiniest patients.

She will help parents record lullabies or songs or stories to play to their infants who are hospitalized.

“A parent’s voice is better than anything else for a baby to hear,” she said.

Sophie’s Place is a joint project with the Forever Young Foundation. That foundation, created by Steve Young, an NFL Hall of Fame quarterback, and his wife, Barb, already created a Forever Young zone at Cardon Children’s where patients can participate in all sorts of arts projects.

Other funding for Sophie’s Place came from fundraising galas hosted by the Banner Health Foundation and individual and corporate donations.

Creating a specific music therapy space at Cardon had been discussed for several years, Houck said. Once it was all agreed upon, it took about eight months to complete.

Ongoing operational costs for Sophie’s Place will come from donations, Cummings said.

Creating Sophie’s Place is proof of Banner Health’s commitment to patients, Cummings said.

“We are committed to the patient’s whole health,” Cummings said. “I feel we’ve succeeded and we are so fortunate to have this kind of space.”

As Sophie’s Places have opened in children’s hospitals, medical experts have increased music therapy prescriptions for their patients after witnessing the scientific health benefits of this treatment, according to Steve Young.

Sophie’s Places honor Sophie Barton, a teenager who frequently sang and played music to patients at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. She died in 2010 while hiking at a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints girls camp.

The first Sophie’s Place opened at Primary Children’s Hospital and the second is at Sutter Children’s Center in Sacramento, California.

– Shelley Ridenour is a freelance reporter for MyNewsMesa.com.

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