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Can music heal? Listen as host Steph Bayer and Cleveland Clinic Music Therapist, Christine Bomberger, explore how music can help ease pain and reduce stress and anxiety for patients. Together they discuss how the addition of a recording studio within the Children's Hospital allowed patients and loved ones to be creative, maintain connections, and ease suffering during difficult times.

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Music is Instrumental in Care

Podcast Transcript

Steph Bayer: Welcome to another episode of Studies in Empathy, a Cleveland Clinic podcast exploring empathy and patient experience. I'm your host, Steph Bayer, Senior Director of the Office of Patient Experience here at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. And I'm very pleased to have with me, Christine Bomberger. Christine, welcome to Studies in Empathy.

Christine Bomberger: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I'm so excited.

Steph Bayer: I'm so excited. Christine's a music therapist here at the Cleveland Clinic and we're really charged up to have her here with us today.

Christine Bomberger: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Steph Bayer: Well, let's start at the beginning. How long have you been with the Cleveland Clinic and what inspired you to become a music therapist?

Christine Bomberger: So I have actually been at the clinic now for nine years, all as the inpatient pediatric music therapist. It's really, really truly my dream job. I originally wanted to go to school for musical theater, but when I found out that my university had music therapy, I kind of started looking into that because I had heard about music therapy when I was in high school, because I had read some studies about music therapy and music interventions for those suffering from Alzheimer's disease, which my grandfather at the time was battling. So I kind of feel like he kind of led me to the field. And so after I had heard about it and read about it, I switched my major and I truly never looked back.

Steph Bayer: Where'd you go to college?

Christine Bomberger: Shenandoah University. It's in Virginia.

Steph Bayer: That's awesome.

Christine Bomberger: Yeah.

Steph Bayer: I love that you were led to it. So the focus of the podcast that we do here, it's about empathy. Can we talk a little bit, can we start with what music therapy does in providing compassion or empathetic care to patients?

Christine Bomberger: Yeah, absolutely. That's a really good question. So I guess I'll start. So music therapy sessions are specifically orchestrated, pun intended, for each individual and their specific needs. So we actually work alongside of the medical team, not just to address the physical needs of those in the hospital, but the emotional needs, the cognitive, the social, even the spiritual needs of the patients as they work towards physical healing. I think that's a really important part of treating the whole person. And in terms of individualized, empathetic, compassionate care, we use what we call patient preferred music in each session. So Steph, what kind of music do you like?

Steph Bayer: I like all kinds of music, but my favorite would be the piano driven, like Billy Joel.

Christine Bomberger: Absolutely. Absolutely. So is there kind of music that you don't like?

Steph Bayer: I am not as big into country music these days.

Christine Bomberger: Okay. So if I was referred to you by a physician, let's say you were having trouble with your pain or anxiety, and they referred you to music therapy, I would not come in and do Keith Urban or I would not play you country music because that's not what's going to be most therapeutic for you. You would probably kick me out of the room and be like, "All right, no, thank you." I'm going to use the music that you love. I'm going to meet you where you're at and use the music that you love to meet your needs. Sometimes it's hard because people think music therapy is just for our geriatric population or just for little kids, but it's really for everybody. And I always tell, especially some of my teenage patients, hey, look, I'm not going to come in here and play you Twinkle Twinkle, unless that's what you want to hear. But the whole kind of point is to really specifically mold our sessions to each individual patient so they just don't feel like just a number. They're using what they love to help heal.

Steph Bayer: I love that you talked about personalization and meeting people where they are, not where we are. That's fantastic. So just from an empathy perspective, it sounds important, but are there scientific or other ways that we can show the interventions benefit patients?

Christine Bomberger: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Music therapy is an clinical and evidence-based practice. It really has shown to alleviate pain, reduce stress, anxiety, improve communication, just to name a few. Also, in many arenas, not just the hospital, but in schools, in jails, in nursing homes. You can find lots and lots of peer reviewed journal articles, case studies about music therapy, and some of the specific interventions we use. Some of the journals might be Journal of Music Therapy or in other related healthcare publications from lots of different specialties: psychology, cancer care, neuroscience. Really, really there's the science to back it up.

Steph Bayer: That's awesome. So one of my favorite things about you. About a year ago, I was in the hallways here and you pulled me aside and said, come look at what we're doing because music therapy at the Cleveland Clinic is part of our art and medicine program, and it is within patient experience. So, you grabbed me and you convinced me to come see an empty room at the time.

Christine Bomberger: Oh my gosh.

Steph Bayer: I didn't have your vision, but I got there, and you took it upon yourself to create a recording studio for pediatrics and for our patients. Can you tell us about this and where did the idea come from and how you made that happen? Because it is incredible. Just incredible.

Christine Bomberger: Yeah. It truly is one of the projects I am really most proud of. It was a labor of love. It took a while, took some time to convince people that, hey, this is what we need. But again, some of the research out there is showing us that technology is a driving force in our lives and a huge presence in our lives and in our children's lives. So the Cleveland Clinic wants us to be innovative and even in our psychosocial care, how can we be innovative? And my idea of this recording studio was kind of my way of doing that.

A lot of the larger standalone children's hospitals have spaces like our recording studio. They have radio stations come in. But even though we may be smaller than some of those standalone children's hospitals, our patients at Cleveland Clinic Children's still deserve to benefit from what those spaces can provide. Those spaces provide an opportunity for self-expression, for learning new coping skills, to even just get out of their room and to do something fun, exciting, allow them to express themselves, create music, record something like this, a podcast. Really, the possibilities are endless. And really, I'm fortunate that I had the support of our arts and medicine team, the Office of Patient Experience, and a lot of monetary support from really, really generous donors to make this happen.

Steph Bayer: It's incredible that you are a bedside inpatient therapist. You're very busy with patients all day long, and you still have the vision and then the execution, and you're not someone who gets to create a budget, not that that's a gift. Trust me, it's not. But that's not in your normal day to day. And yet you found this vision and you found the right folks to rally with you, and like you said, with some very generous donors that helped make it possible. But tremendous kudos to you for sticking your neck out there and saying, we can do better for our patients and here's how.

Christine Bomberger: Yeah, absolutely. It's a really, really, really amazing space, and we've gotten to use it to create some really amazing projects. Kind of looks like the studio we're in now, just a little bit of a smaller size. But yeah.

Steph Bayer: So paint that for me for those that aren't in the studio with us, what equipment do you have? What does it look like?

Christine Bomberger: Yeah, so you walk in and it's got lots of music production technology. We've got musical instruments. We've got a couple of keyboards, guitar, all that can be plugged into various interfaces and laptops. We've got, like I said, laptops, headphones, editing software, beat makers. We've even got a green screen to make music videos, you name it, it's probably in there. All of these things just allow our patients to express themselves through music, through storytelling, through songwriting, recorded speech. Everyone kind of wants to go viral these days. So learning how to do some of these more technologically savvy things is really exciting for some of these patients and families. And this space actually is also where our music therapists do a lot of our heartbeat recordings. So not only do our patients and their families get to use this space, but we have a space where we can create some of these projects that we're working on, on a daily basis, in a place that's quiet, conducive to music making.

Steph Bayer: It's great. The space, it might sound to those listening like, oh, how much room do you have for it? It's a little bit bigger than a closet. It's not a very big space. It's an old office that was converted for this. But you just mentioned heartbeat recordings. So that's one of the recordings that we're delivering in this space. But what is a heartbeat recording? I don't know if people know what that means.

Christine Bomberger: Yeah, sure. I can speak to some of the different recordings, but to speak directly to the heartbeat recording that you just mentioned, this is probably where the studio gets the most use, especially by our music therapists. So my music therapy colleagues and I are able to record a patient's heart sounds using a digital stethoscope, and then set that heartbeat to music. So the songs that the patients and their families select can be adjusted to be played to the tempo of the heartbeat that we recorded and then memorialized on an MP3, or inside a teddy bear, or put on a CD for a gift that perhaps sometimes can long outlive its source. We do often do these recordings at the end of a patient's life, but sometimes we can do it for other reasons. I do them for pre and post heart transplants or to soothe NICU babies with the sound that they heard in utero, their mother's heartbeat. I've also done heartbeat recordings for siblings who were separated because of the visitation restrictions during COVID. So they could still have a way to feel connected to each other despite one sibling being admitted.

Steph Bayer: Look, Christine, this sounds amazing. Do you have any examples?

Christine Bomberger: I do. I brought one with me today. I'm happy to share it with you.

Steph Bayer: This is a heartbeat recording.

Christine Bomberger: Yes.

Steph Bayer: So great.

What a powerful tool.

Christine Bomberger: Those come out, they're always so beautiful, no matter the purpose. It's really truly an honor to create those recordings.

Steph Bayer: That's such a gift. What other recordings do we do?

Christine Bomberger: Ooh, lots of different types can be made in our magic little studio. I've had parents of NICU babies come to the studio to record themselves singing lullabies to be played at the bedside, yeah, when sometimes they're not able to be at the hospital, and those babies still need appropriate stimulation, they still need those opportunities for bonding. I worked like an entire rap track with a patient who created their own beats using our instruments, they wrote their own lyrics, they recorded them on top of those beats, and that came out really, really wonderful. They were admitted for quite a long time. So this was a project we were able to work on throughout their admission.

Steph Bayer: That's cool.

Christine Bomberger: Yeah. And then I did make a music video to commemorate a patient's final inpatient chemotherapy admission, so that was really exciting.

Steph Bayer: I love that.

Christine Bomberger: And so they were very proud of that and sending around to all their caregivers and friends and it was great. So really whatever the patients need, I feel like now we have a way to do that and to, again, to go back to meet these kids where they are, and using the technologies that they see and that they want to learn about and that all their favorite music producers are using. It's really cool.

Steph Bayer: It is so cool. Is there a story that you can share that captures the impact music or other art therapies have on patients? I love these stories.

Christine Bomberger: Yeah. Honestly, Steph, there's so many. And really, truly just being able to use something that's meaningful to a patient in their everyday lives, be it art or music, and then incorporating that into their medical care is just, it's so important and it's so rewarding. I think something that always stands out to me though is when music or art therapy is referred for a patient who doesn't speak English. At Cleveland Clinic, we treat people from around the world, from many different cultures, many different backgrounds. And to bring something to them that humanizes and normalizes what can be a pretty sterile environment sometimes, often without needing words because you don't really need words for music or art, truly speaks to the value of what our creative arts therapies can bring to the table to help heal.

Steph Bayer: To heal. That's great. What are we not talking about today that we should? What have I not asked you about that you think we should raise up and think about?

Christine Bomberger: I think the whole purpose of this podcast is really important, and I think that message of empathy and compassion is so important to remember whether you are working with patients face-to-face, or you're behind the scenes or you are a HUC or you work with budgets. I think empathy and compassion is so important to remember in every aspect of life and work. So I really just appreciate being a part of this narrative. I will also say, I'll do a little plug that Creative Arts Therapy Week is coming up. It's the third week in March, so depending on when this comes out.

Steph Bayer: Its perfect timing.

Christine Bomberger: So if you're hearing this during Creative Arts Therapy Week, make sure if you see a music art therapist or drama therapist or dance therapist in your life, just tell them you appreciate them and say hey.

Steph Bayer: All right. Perfect timing. I love this.

Christine Bomberger: Yeah. That's awesome.

Steph Bayer: So cool. Now, you know as a music therapist, I'm not going to let you go until you tell me, is there a song that you see as a theme for you, or it just really resonates with you?

Christine Bomberger: Ooh, that's a good question.

Steph Bayer: I mean, with your musical theater background and your love of music, I'm always curious about people.

Christine Bomberger: Personally, that's a tricky question. I would really have to think about that. I think it might change throughout the seasons of life, but Disney, especially since I work in pediatrics, Disney is huge.

Steph Bayer: Of course.

Christine Bomberger: But I really find that the song from Little Mermaid, Part of Your World, just really resonates sometimes with these kids that are in the hospital for a really long time. And some of these lyrics, they just truly speak to maybe the experience of just being cooped up in this place, but there's a whole other world out there, and just to get out there, and I want to be out there where those people are, and working to help them get to get there. So whenever I hear that song, I don't know. I think of our patients.

Steph Bayer: It's a great song.

Christine Bomberger: Yeah.

Steph Bayer: I'm so glad you're part of our world here. You’re helping the people.

Christine Bomberger: Thank you.

Steph Bayer: Of course. Well, I had a really lovely time talking to you.

Christine Bomberger: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me.

Steph Bayer: Thanks for spending time with me.

Christine Bomberger: Of course.

Steph Bayer: This concludes the Studies in Empathy Podcast. You can find additional podcast episodes on our website, Subscribe to the Studies in Empathy Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, SoundCloud, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast. Thank you for listening. Join us again soon.

Studies in Empathy
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Studies in Empathy

Join Cleveland Clinic Patient Experience leaders and a diverse group of guests as we delve into the human(e) experience in healthcare. Thought leaders share insight, anecdotes, and perspectives on empathy as a functional concept for Patient Experience leadership, and also just about everything else we do in healthcare- quality, safety, burnout, and engagement leadership.
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