Innovation Spotlight: Children's Hospital Creative Art Therapists Offer Comfort, Coping, and Creativity

Mar 18, 2019 5 years ago

In our Innovators Series, we’re profiling University City entrepreneurs, researchers, and companies who are working on cutting-edge technologies and building the future right here in University City. We’ll feature those working in science, technology, medicine, and more to tell the story of how a virtuous cycle of innovation, talent, business formation, and placemaking is unfolding in our community, creating a 21st century economy that leverages knowledge into economic value and development.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, or CHOP as it’s colloquially called, is a hub of innovation, producing patents, medical discoveries, and even start-up companies. Research initiated at CHOP has led to breakthroughs in immunotherapy approaches, artificial wombs, noninvasive mapping of the microstructure of brain regions during early infancy, and much more. Spark Therapeutics, a gene therapy company founded in March 2013 based on over two decades of research at CHOP, was recently acquired by Switzerland-based Roche Holding AG for a reported $4.8 billion in February 2019.  

Ask the average parent of a sick child, though, and it’s unlikely they’re as concerned with research and medical breakthroughs as they are with the care of their son or daughter. In that way, CHOP excels as well. CHOP consistently earns top marks in the U.S. News Best Children’s Hospitals rankings. 

CHOP emphasizes a “bench to bedside” philosophy, meaning the results of the hospital’s extensive lab research are directly used to develop new ways to treat patients through a holistic complete care team. To learn more about that approach, we spoke with two clinicians who provide unique services designed to make the hospital experience easier for CHOP patients and families.

Lydia Logan and Jonathan Jenkins can both be found walking with carts of fun supplies through the halls of CHOP. For Lydia, her cart is stocked with a guitar, ukulele, electronic keyboards, a variety of drums, shakers and other instruments for children and adolescents. Jonathan’s cart – adorned with two enormous googly eyes – overflows with paint and paintbrushes, a variety of art supplies and clay like sculpey and model magic. Lydia is a Board Certified Music Therapist (MT-BC) and obtained both her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Music Therapy from Temple University. Jonathan is a Registered Board Certified Art Therapist (ATR-BC) and obtained his Master’s Degree in Art Therapy from Drexel University.

Lydia and Jonathan work in conjunction with the interdisciplinary team to support the biopsychosocial health of hospitalized children. As creative arts therapists, they provide valuable coping mechanisms for patients and families through offering increased opportunities for self-expression related to illness and hospitalization. They also help to promote a positive sense of self-esteem, especially as patients begin to navigate the challenges experienced with medical and/or physical limitations.

Being admitted to a hospital can be a frightening experience, but it’s even more difficult for a child and their family. In a world of needles, bright lights, strange smells and sounds, and bad-tasting medicine, clinicians like Lydia and Jonathan provide an important distraction through the use of art and music, though their work entails a great deal more.

“Although my music cart is filled with instruments and it may seem that I am there to entertain children, my role is much different,” says Lydia. “Instead, I intentionally use music therapy interventions to help patients and families cope with the challenges that come along with being in the hospital. When I meet a patient and family, I always talk with the treatment team, assess clinical needs in the moment and then determine how I can best use music to support those needs and to address treatment goals that the team is working on. Sessions may be interactive through music making and verbal processing or might be receptive through listening, depending upon the patient’s needs.”

“We’re focused on trying to help kids cope,” says Jonathan. “We’re really trying to be a supportive presence, and to talk about things if they want to. In that regard, they hopefully feel supported and value the time they spend with us.”

Both Lydia and Jonathan were artistic when they were younger. Lydia is a singer and pianist who performed in musical theater growing up. She was initially a voice performance major at college before realizing she wanted to pursue music in a way that focused on helping people. She considered switching majors to psychology or special education. “It wasn’t until I found music therapy that it finally was the right mix, combining all these things.”

Despite her background in music as well as experience working at a camp for children with special needs, she had a lot to learn. “I had never touched a guitar in my life until music therapy training,” she says. “You have to learn different instruments that are commonly used in music therapy. I use my voice, piano, percussion, music technology and recording software. We often use the ukulele in children’s hospitals. I had never played one before.” Her studies included extensive training in psychology, counseling techniques, and music therapy coursework focusing on evidenced-based research regarding how to use music to impact health and wellness; she also had to complete 1200 hours of clinical rotations before taking her Board Certification exam.

Jonathan followed a similar path. He studied sculpture while earning his BFA, and worked in and around the mental health field while in school, at camps, and at an assisted living group home. One day his supervisor, a music therapist, recommended Drexel University’s Creative Arts Therapies Department, and Jonathan enrolled.

“Drexel was a pretty rigorous program,” he says of the nearby university. “In art therapy there’s a lot of counseling, psychology, and psychotherapy coursework that we take, plus human development coursework. That really bolstered my knowledge in the mental health field. We also had very specialized coursework in art therapy, and how to use artmaking and the creative process as a tool in therapy sessions. I felt like I had this patchwork experience of artmaking, fine arts, and mental health, but Drexel’s program helped me consolidate that, and make sense of a lot of it.”

Although the program wasn’t specifically geared toward working with children, Jonathan found himself drawn to that field. “I feel like it’s easy to me to relate to kids, and get on their level,” he says. He wrote his master’s thesis about working with children who had experienced trauma.

Lydia and Jonathan each use their creative arts background –  as well as their psychology and psychotherapy training – when interacting with patients and families in order to develop effective interventions.

“Sessions are always going to look different depending on individual treatment goals,” says Lydia. “ At CHOP, some of the goals commonly targeted include improving heart and respiratory rate, increasing opportunities for autonomy, promoting opportunities for family bonding, supporting pain management, supporting social development, and helping to create a sense of normalcy within the hospital environment, to name a few.”

“Unfortunately, in the medical setting, doctors and nurses have the big challenge of doing things that are painful to kids, but necessary,” Jonathan says.

Lydia agrees. “If a physical therapist or occupational therapist is working with a toddler, trying to get them to do something that is really physically hard...and now we add music to it, and you add different instruments, you can support their skills, whatever they’re working toward. We can help provide that motivation to the patient to engage with these things that might be scary. The music makes it feel different, and less intimidating.”

When asked, both Lydia and Jonathan have a difficult time picking just one occasion when they felt their work made a big difference in the treatment of a patient. Jonathan feels honored to work with cardiac patients. “A few patients I’ve worked with actually had to live at the hospital until they got a heart transplant,” he says.

He worked with one patient to create a trauma narrative to help him process everything he had been through. “He was able to tell his story and all the things that he had been through, and in that way he was able to externalize a lot of that, and talk about it. A lot of it was done through drawings, but also writing and talking. And it went into a book that the patient kept. It became this very child-friendly way for this person to sort through all of that...all of that chaos and scary stuff.”

For Lydia, she values what she’s able to provide to families during tremendously difficult times. “Through music therapy you might be working with parents to create a personalized lullaby for their infant during an extended stay,” she says. “You’re giving them a role, and a way to interact with their baby while they’re at the hospital. Sometimes families have a particular song that’s really meaningful in their family and we can find ways of incorporating that into sessions in a way that is developmentally appropriate. It is also an honor and privilege to be a part of end-of-life cases and to be able to use music not only to enhance quality of life, but also to honor a child’s legacy in a way that will always be remembered by the family.”

It’s clinicians like these two, combined with talented and dedicated nurses, doctors, and researchers, that make Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia such a vital part of the innovation ecosystem here in University City.