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Musically Speaking therapy program enhances patient care at St. Paul’s

November 21st, 2016
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Support from St. Paul’s Foundation helps team hit the right note

In her work as a music therapist in the St. Paul’s Mental Health Program, Mara Sawchyn has had her share of touching moments.

“One young man was not doing well,” she recalls. “He was on suicide watch. He was new to Canada, alone, isolated from his family. Sometimes we would play music together; sometimes we would just listen to music. He received wonderful care at St. Paul’s and ultimately he recovered. When he was leaving the unit, he said, ‘Thank you for helping me to focus on the happiness in my life.’”

Mara says she will never forget those words, nor the feeling of knowing that she had played a part in helping this patient reconnect with his love of music.

“For anyone in a helping profession,” she says, “these are the moments when you’re reminded of why you do what you do. I saw hope in his eyes as he said this to me. It was as if he knew he could go on, he knew he could find his way.”

Mara was not always a music therapist. Her education had been in business management and for many years she worked in IT, mostly doing quality assurance, technical writing and supportive work. But music has always been a part of her life. She learned guitar and accordion in childhood. Later, she taught herself to play piano.

When she pulled back from her career to raise her family in the 1990s, Mara says she had a moment of clarity while volunteering at Riverview Hospital. Mara would bring her guitar and was amazed at the positive effect music had on patients.

“I see my volunteer experience at Riverview as being the main reason why I went back to school to get a degree in music therapy at Capilano University,” she says. “I embarked on an entirely new career and have never looked back. I love it.”

The power of music

The medicinal benefits of music, its powers of emotional healing, cannot be disputed. In a hospital setting, especially, listening to music has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety. Playing a musical instrument, even at the most novice or beginner stage, can be socially, cognitively and physically beneficial.
Music’s non-verbal and emotional qualities are valuable in the therapeutic relationship setting for facilitating contact, interaction, self-expression and personal development.

Music therapy supported by Enhanced Patient Care grant

Mara was thrilled earlier this year to hear that her music therapy program, Musically Speaking, had received one of St. Paul’s Foundation’s Enhanced Patient Care (EPC) grants.

With so many priority needs in so many hospital departments, it can be difficult to find funding for items like speakers, microphones, guitars and keyboards.

“But that’s what make the EPC grants so special,” says Mara. “The main thing St. Paul’s Foundation wants to know is that the items you request funding for will do one thing—enhance patient care. And that’s what music therapy is all about!”

The EPC grants program is funded entirely by donations to Lights of Hope, which is St. Paul’s Foundation’s biggest fundraising campaign of the year. To support research, education and patient care at St. Paul’s, including innovative programs like music therapy, make your Lights of Hope gift today.

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