Family Therapy Hits the Right Note
Music is often said to be “food for the soul”, and that has certainly proved to be the case for the de Jager Family.
Music Therapy at ellenor
When Luwan was diagnosed with leukaemia at just 3 years old, his parents didn't know where to turn. The family were helped by ellenor Hospice, who supported the whole family through their life-changing experience.
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Read the de Jager Family Story
When their little boy Luwan was diagnosed with leukaemia and hospice charity, ellenor, suggested music therapy, the de Jager Family didn’t know quite what to expect.
Dad Barry said: “Because of the social distancing guidelines the therapy was going to be online, and I wondered how much you could engage via Zoom – it’s not the easiest thing to do. But we just decided to give it a go.”
The de Jagers are no strangers to music. Barry teaches guitar and their home is filled with a variety of musical instruments – everything from a piano to maracas. But even he was surprised by how much his young family benefitted from the therapy. He praised Ellie, employed by ellenor partner organisation Nordoff Robbins, for her holistic approach.
“It was not just music; it was both physical and spiritual. Ellie put so much effort, love and passion into it.”
Staff at ellenor believe mental wellbeing is as important as physical wellness. Music therapy, provided at ellenor hospice by Nordoff Robbins (the largest independent music therapy charity in the UK), is just one of a variety of therapies on offer and not just to the patient but to their whole family.
Luwan was only three when he was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2020. Barry and his wife Felicia, a keyworker teacher, faced the emotional turmoil of Luwan’s illness along with the demands of his two young siblings and the restrictions brought about by the Covid pandemic.
Barry, who also plays for Dartford Valley Rugby Club, said: “We scheduled 12 sessions of music therapy. It was during the Pandemic so every one of them took place online, and it far exceeded our expectations. We didn’t think it would last very long but we did every single session. Ellie was really accommodating."
“The Music Therapy sessions led to extreme amounts of excitement, fun and joy. On Friday afternoons, we rushed home from school to get ready.”
Luwan has a younger sister Lillah, three, and an older brother Mielan, six.
Barry said: “It has probably been toughest for Mielan as he experiences emotions but does not have the mental capacity to understand what we have really been going through. It was hard for him not to be the focus of our attention.
“Ellie had lots of little personalities to deal with and she did a wonderful job, even making up songs on the spot, using the children’s names. She made the therapy more specific to each of them.
“We already have a house full of instruments, and Ellie saw that immediately. She had us playing the piano, the harmonicas, the maracas – you name it. The children all had so much fun. It was also great to see them joining in with movements, dancing and spinning. Sometimes I just had to stop and take little videos so now I have some pretty amusing footage!”
Barry admits it was an eye opener for him, as a music teacher, to watch Ellie in action.
“It was interesting to see how she approached the fundamentals of music and turned it into heaps of fun. She played with the dynamics of music – slow, quiet, then moving up the scale. Everything was mirrored in body movements. She engaged them all physically, mentally and spiritually. Ellie would just go with it – she has the perfect touch.
“Seeing the kids in that sense of engagement – it was something I had never witnessed before."
"To see them all laughing and screaming with joy was such a blessing.”
Luwan has finished his treatment now and has three-monthly hospital checks.
Barry said: “He’s doing really well, and we are moving forward with our lives. He goes to a childminder twice a week. Luwan has always been very sociable, sometimes even telling the nurses and doctors how nice they looked!”
During Luwan’s treatment, ellenor nurses were able to help the family take bloods and organise medicines. The whole family, including Felicia’s mother, who was visiting from South Africa, also enjoyed a day out pumpkin picking last autumn. It was a family trip organised by ellenor in between lockdowns.
Barry said: “Now, we believe Luwan is well and that it’s time to move forward and for him to live a normal life for a kid of his age.
“I can only speak well of ellenor, not just for how they helped the kids but for how they helped Felicia and I, and how they approached us as a whole family."
ellenor has always been there for us and we can still contact them whenever we need them – they are on speed dial.
“Music therapy lit up the children’s experience of music. You just need to look at the footage on my phone. There was such a high level of engagement, emotional support and relaxation. I also think the sessions improve social skills. I could see the kids’ confidence increasing once they realised they could pick up an instrument and do something positive.
“They were having so much fun that they forgot how to behave in a negative way. And that was all via Zoom - I can only imagine how much more exciting it could be when the therapist is actually in the room with you.”
ABOUT MUSIC THERAPY
A therapeutic intervention which uses music to form a relationship with another person, irrespective of musical ability. It's an emotional outlet for patients and carers and can distract those from feeling pain or stress.