Focus: Campaign of the week - Frontline - Music as Therapy

Tania Mason,

WHAT IT IS: A charity that enlists volunteer music therapists in the UK, using them to train local care workers who then use music therapy to improve the lives of adults and children with disabilities and special needs in Romania

WHAT IT DOES: Sends qualified music therapists to Romania for six weeks once or twice a year. They visit several institutions, providing music therapy training to local staff. The charity donates percussion instruments worth £1,000 on each trip

HOW IT'S FUNDED: One-third of its annual £45,000 income comes from trusts and foundations, another third from regular donors, the rest from events

In 2000, a psychiatric hospital in the district of Techirghiol in Romania was visited by two of Music as Therapy's therapists, who worked with more than 100 adults with varying disabilities. The therapists were concerned to be told by hospital managers that they were not allowed to see the patients who lived on the fifth floor of the hospital.

"They were told there was no point even trying to work with them - they were beyond help," recalls Jane Robbie, projects co-ordinator at Music as Therapy. "They were deemed to be so disturbed that they were locked away by themselves day and night, and had no contact with the outside world." The only access to their floor was by means of a fire escape.

The therapists refused to leave without seeing the notorious residents, insisting they could train staff to communicate and interact with them using music.

Calmer environment

Last year, one of the therapists returned to the hospital with Robbie.

In the main hospital they found a much calmer environment than the chaos that had reigned four years earlier. They learned that all 395 patients had received individual or group therapy in the past four years. "People who had been running around and screaming uncontrollably four years earlier were now able to sit in one place, make eye contact, take turns and be part of a group," Robbie says. And those on the fifth floor? Robbie says the progress was amazing: "As a result of the therapy, some of the fifth-floor patients had been integrated into the rest of the hospital. These patients had offered to help staff carry drums and xylophones up the external staircase so they could hold music therapy sessions in other patients' rooms. So even those who were bed-ridden could take part."

Since Music as Therapy was launched in 1995, 1,000 children and adults in Romania have had music therapy and 200 local employees have been trained.

Although the charity does not have enough resources to deliver more than one or two training projects each year, interest in its programme is spreading throughout Romania. The charity also organises events and conferences in Romania and lectures psychology students on the merits of music therapy.

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