The Child Life Department at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital is committed to helping pediatric patients cope with the stress and anxiety associated with hospitalization.
This is accomplished by embracing play as a healing modality, preparing pediatric patients for medical procedures, educating children and families about the illness and plan of care, and by providing distraction to patients during painful procedures. A critical component of our Child Life Department’s toolkit is our suite of high-impact holistic therapies, including:
Play is vital to the growth and development of any child. Hospitalization and illness can hinder a child’s ability to play, and thus, reach age-specific milestones. St. Joseph’s Child Life Department offers many different types of play to facilitate normal growth and development as well as educate pediatric patients and help them to cope with feelings they experience as a patient. Certified Child Life Specialists, and other members of the department, are trained in specific areas of play.
In addition to age-appropriate play for normal growth and development, other types of play offered by Child Life staff includes:
A multitude of toys and supplies are needed to provide therapeutic play sessions to our patients. Material for infants/toddlers may include musical toys, light up toys, and large blocks; preschool and school-age patients need dolls, action figures, games, and crafts while teen/young adult patients require items such as advanced art projects, critical thinking games, and technology-based items. Some companies even produce supplies and toys specifically for therapeutic play interventions which are usually much costlier than more well-known toys that can be purchased from local stores or websites.
Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program (American Music Therapy Association, 2020).
St. Joseph’s Child Life Department has a full-time, board-certified Music Therapist that offers music therapy sessions to inpatient pediatric patients and families 40 hours per week. Patients are included in music therapy sessions for reasons such as:
A wide variety of instruments and technology are used to aid in accomplishing music therapy goals with patients and families. Instruments include the guitar, ukulele, various types of drums, xylophone, kalimbas, bells, shakers, and technological devices and/or programs such as Garage Band.
The Music Therapist may provide individual bedside sessions to patients as well as parents. Services, at times, may also be extended to siblings based on assessment. Small group sessions occur throughout the year to help introduce patients who may be roommates or have the same illness. When appropriate, recordings and videos may be produced for patients and families for legacy building.
This program is defined by the saying, “When words fail, art speaks.” The art therapist at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital focuses on children’s emotional state and helps them use art to express inner thoughts or feelings that they may be unable to verbalize.
The art therapist visits St. Joseph’s at least twice each week and at the start of each shift, works with Child Life staff to identify the patients who are most in need of services and would benefit the most from art therapy. On average, the art therapist treats four to five patients each day, or eight to ten patients each week.
St. Joseph’s art therapy program is trauma-informed and evidence-based, and complements medical care.
Art therapy benefits our pediatric patients in several key ways:
Horticultural therapy uses planting, gardening, and nature-based play activities to support the rehabilitation of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional functioning.
The horticultural therapy program is currently offered one to two times each month, serving approximately 30-40 children per visit as well as patients’ family members.
After introducing the day’s scheduled activity to patients and their families, the horticultural therapist provides educational information and facts on the plants she is using, and incorporates more generalizable lessons (for example, flowers are all different, just as people are all unique). She then models the project and assists patients and families as they create their own projects.
Developmental needs addressed during horticultural therapy include:
Horticultural therapy enables pediatric patients and their families to learn about the environment as they interact with natural elements and express their creativity through craft and planting projects. This is particularly critical for St. Joseph’s population, as many children and families living in Paterson, a densely populated urban area, do not have access to outdoor space for various reasons—thus, exposure to the natural world is not an everyday occurrence. St. Joseph’s patients have reacted extremely favorably to learning about nature.
St. Joseph’s AAT Program is specially designed to improve functional outcomes, stimulate healing and recovery, and provide comfort to pediatric patients.
All sessions are goal-oriented, documented, and conducted with highly trained dogs and their certified professional handler.
The Children’s Hospital staff and nurses routinely report increased patient compliance, improved communication between staff and patients, and an overall more normalized patient experience after one or more AAT sessions.
AAT helps healthcare providers accomplish the following objectives:
The AAT is available to patients two days per week, reaching approximately eight patients per week.
For a recent shared patient story, animal-assisted therapy was introduced to an eight-year old patient who refused to eat and faced a possible gastrostomy tube placement (G-tube). After feeding Sheldon – a therapy dog – during his session, the patient ate an entire meal in the hospital cafeteria and continued to eat properly, avoiding the placement of a G-tube.