Thursday, December 6, 2018

Music therapist helps create moments of joy

By Louise Kinross

Eunice Kang’s music career began at the age of three. Her mother was a professional pianist, so “there was no choice for me not to go into the music field,” she says, laughing. Eunice has a university degree in violin performance from South Korea, and spent her 20s travelling the world as a professional violinist. Eunice came to Canada to study music therapy at Wilfrid Laurier University and volunteered at Holland Bloorview while she was a student. She later did an internship here and was hired in 2011. Eunice is a registered psychotherapist, neurology music therapy fellow, and accredited music therapist. She brings a unique perspective to the families she works with because her son Nathan developed seizures at age two.

BLOOM: How did you get into the field?

Eunice Kang:
Through my whole life I’ve played the piano and the violin. After performing in numerous concerts during my 20s, I wondered if there was another field I could dedicate myself to, where I would feel more valuable. I love working with children and that’s when I thought about music therapy.

BLOOM: What is a typical day like?

Eunice Kang:
During the week I mostly see inpatients where the goal is to help them regain their abilities, or enhance their existing ability. Music is a safe environment. Most children like music, so it can have a life-changing impact on them. We have many traditional instruments and new music technologies like Soundbeam, which uses sensors to detect movement and translate it into sounds, and the 
virtual music instrument. Through music therapy we help children to improve physical and mental health or to better cope emotionally with their hospitalization and loss of abilities. 

BLOOM: How would you support their emotional wellbeing?

Eunice Kang
: Often it’s by making our own music. We may use technologies like GarageBand and they’ll write their own song, or we may pick famous music and change the words to reflect their emotions and stories.

BLOOM: What about your work with outpatients?

Eunice Kang:
We see a lot of children with autism who are outpatients. They may be working on improving communication or self-regulation skills. They may be learning how to play the piano, violin, guitar, ukulele, drums or shakers with individualized education plans.

BLOOM: Why is music important to children with disabilities?

Eunice Kang:
It offers a safe, rewarding place where children can be themselves. In music therapy, you don’t need any prerequisite skills. As music is non-verbal, we can communicate and express ourselves more easily through it. That motivates our children to enhance their skills.

BLOOM: What are the joys of your job?

Eunice Kang:
I especially love to work with babies and young children. I also love working with teenagers and preteens. But the babies are pure angels. When we’re doing therapy, I don’t feel like I’m doing therapy. I’m enjoying them, moment to moment, and I can feel joy. When clients make progress—it doesn’t matter if it’s slow or fast—it boosts my self-confidence. I remember one family who came and during their child’s assessment, the mother started to cry. I asked her why she was crying, and she said she’d never heard her son say his name. He said it many times in that session. So there are breakthroughs.

BLOOM: What is the greatest challenge?

Eunice Kang:
Sometimes controlling my emotions. My son’s seizures started at age two. Sometimes I see people going through what we went through and hard moments for our parents bring up my own memories and emotions.

BLOOM: Can you tell us a little bit about your son Nathan?

Eunice Kang:
He was hospitalized for three months due to a high fever and then the seizures started. They are intractable. He lost the ability to stand, walk and talk. It’s a disaster to see your own child lose everything. My son is eight now, and I’m better. Time heals me, too.

BLOOM: Was there anything you found helped you cope with your son’s medical condition that might be useful to other parents?

Eunice Kang:
The best thing is direct family support. Emotional support is important, and Andrea Lamont here has done lots of therapy with me. I’d say the reason I survived was because of Andrea’s support. When something like this happens, it’s best to open up to someone you trust and talk about it, rather than hide. Some of the parents here who know my situation have also been very helpful in my life.

When I started, I didn’t think I would have a special-needs child. Now that I do, I have lots of support from my managers and coordinators. Everyone understands my situation, and they make everything easy for me to work. The Canadian health-care system is so much better than in Korea, so I feel really blessed that Nathan was born here.

BLOOM: How has your own experience parenting a child with disabilities influenced your work?

Eunice Kang:
My attitude has changed. When I was a beginning music therapist I didn’t really take work home with me. But now I take things more seriously. Now there’s no boundary between work and home, but more of a continuation. I also find that I think about the child and his or her environment more inclusively. I’m not just thinking about music therapy. I will check to make sure families have all of the available resources in other areas of their life.

BLOOM: What have you learned through patients?

Eunice Kang:
I really admire their courage and how brave they are. I’m often surprised at how families will advocate and protest to protect their child. They’re very involved in their child’s care.

BLOOM: What work here are you most proud of?

Eunice Kang:
The Baby and Me program, because I love helping parents and baby to bond together, and to help with parent’s emotional challenges. I also love Holland Bloorview Rocks. The children attend about 10 or 11 practices and then we put on a concert. I will never forget the joy and excitement on their faces, and their attitudes when they’re on stage. They are pure rock stars. This program also supports our music therapy program, so the children are proud to know that they’re helping other children.