3 Powerful Ways Music Therapy Helped This Young Girl With Severe Anxiety Find Her Voice
At first, Ella’s parents thought their child was just shy and introverted. In social situations, though, her anxiety was crippling. Birthdays were the worst. Most of them would end in tears for trivial reasons. In one-on-one interactions, she appeared friendly and warm, but her anxiety would take hold if others joined in, leaving her quiet and cold.
“It took us a couple of years to understand that the issue was more than just anxiety,” says her father. “Around age seven, with the support of her school teachers, we understood that she needed professional support and contacted Franciscan Children’s.”
For 70 years, Franciscan Children’s has helped children like Ella reach their full potential by providing specialized mental health treatment and medical rehabilitation in a compassionate and positive environment. As New England’s premier provider of pediatric mental health care offering both inpatient and outpatient services, Franciscan Children’s provides hope for every child struggling with mental health in their lives.
Ella found hope and so much more in music therapy, blossoming into a happy-go-lucky girl who speaks with confidence and can overcome her anxiety. She’s not the only one. Through music therapy, countless children like Ella have found their voice through the universal language of music. Here are three inspiring ways music therapy helped Ella find hers.
Slaying the Anxiety “Monsters” Through Song
Franciscan Children’s music therapist Jessica Triana didn’t think she would get much out of Ella on their first day together. Yet, as soon as she brought in some art supplies and showed Ella a few instruments, Ella started opening up. The pair started by creating visual images of Ella’s anxieties that Ella called “monsters.” To combat them, they would then write a song about ways Ella can calm her fears when the “monsters” show up.
“She could create music to help me understand what her anxiety was and then help herself understand what it is,” says Triana. “With young kids, it’s difficult to talk about hard issues and music therapy opens up this whole other world for kids to be able to express themselves.”
Making a Musical Mantra
It started with Ella saying it aloud so that just the two of them could hear: “I am BRAVE.” She chose the mantra herself, a battle cry for fighting the anxiety monsters. With Triana’s help, Ella would repeat the mantra over and over to a recognizable melody. It’s probably no surprise that she chose “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen, an anthem for young girls everywhere. Once she built up the courage, it was time for Ella to step outside and face her fears.
“She was able to sing in the hallway and show people that she can use her voice and be heard and seen by others, and still be able to maintain her level of comfort and calm,” says Triana.
Becoming Confident in Conversation
Ella’s parents don’t have any illusions that she’ll be a musical superstar. In music therapy, though, Triana says that doesn’t matter. The mission isn’t to turn Ella into an opera singer, it’s to give her something much more important: confidence. Since kids gravitate towards play and creation, what better way to boost self-esteem then through making music?
“My goal wasn’t to have her give us singing performance. It was to have her be able to talk to other people,” says Triana. “Now, she has a lot of confidence in herself and control over her anxiety.”
Ella’s parents have noticed her change in confidence, too. They say that lately when someone she doesn’t know speaks to her, she doesn’t freeze up in the face of her anxiety monsters. Instead, she remembers her mantra, “I am BRAVE,” and conquers her fears.
“She is now exerting extra effort to tell her name when asked and when she succeeds, it makes her so happy,” says her father. “She comes to me and goes ‘Dad, that lady asked my name and I was able to tell her.’ When that happens, her confidence boosts and she becomes happier for the rest of the day.”
To learn more about music therapy and other outpatient behavioral health services at Franciscan Children’s Hospital, visit franciscanchildrens.org.This is a paid partnership between Franciscan Children's and Boston Magazine's City/Studio