WCU Music Therapy Student Practices in India

Hattiesburg, Miss., January 14, 2014 -
William Carey University senior music therapy student Hannah Melancon of Eunice, La., put her skills from the classroom to use when she embarked on a two-month journey to India during the summer 2013. Through her father’s connections, she had the opportunity to intern with Dr. Rebekah Naylor, global health care consultant for Baptist Global Response, at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital (BBH) and stay in the nurses’ hostel. In addition to serving as a hospital, BBH also has a comprehensive teaching program for medical science, nursing, allied health, and pastoral care. Hannah grew up with both parents serving as International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries and her father worked at BBH with Dr. Naylor, who is now retired from IMB after her 37 years of service.

Hannah’s face lights up as she passionately explains how she was able to work with a variety of patients, finding different ways to use music therapy to help them. One such case was six-year-old Iver who had Burkitt lymphoma. She met with little Iver often, playing her guitar softly and singing to him during his treatments to calm him. On more than one occasion, the nurses struggled to administer his medication because of the little boy’s resistance, but when Hannah sang and played for him, he calmed down, focused on her instead of them, and they were then able to perform their job.

Hannah also had the opportunity to work with patients suffering from cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, terminal cancer, and other conditions. She spent Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays helping with rehabilitation sessions, and other days helping in the oncology and ICU units. One of the patients she worked with had spinal muscular atrophy, and she said it was such an amazing moment to witness the patient finally beginning to walk again during physical therapy sessions. In addition to playing guitar and singing, Hannah used shakers, rhythm sticks, bells, and ocean drums to calm and soothe the patients as they struggled through exhausting treatments.

During physical therapy sessions, she played rhythmic beats to help patients keep steady breathing patterns, thus improving flexibility and movement. One patient said that this practice allowed him to go the furthest he had been able to stretch since having his ACL surgery on his knee. For patients in the oncology unit, Hannah was able to offer coping skills in the form of offering hope through Christian counseling and peace through soothing music.

In another case, Hannah had the opportunity to help with a little boy, Joshua, who was from Africa. Joshua had liver cancer, and the nurse was trying to get him to sit up to help drain the fluid from his lungs. Hannah played for him, and soon he was engaged with her, forgetting about his pain and agreeing to cooperate with the nurse. She said it was especially rewarding having the opportunity to pray with the patients as much as possible, which also had an influence on the staff who were nonbelievers.

Hannah said she was most nervous about working in ICU as a student, but that it was a fascinating learning experience that helped her grow.

“The staff taught me how to read the patients’ vitals, and I would watch as their heart rate would go down and their oxygen would go up when I played for them,” Hannah said. “It was a rewarding experience, and instant gratification getting to see that my therapy really was helping them physically.”

In addition to work in the hospital, Hannah also worked directly with people living in nearby slums. She joined a local pastor in leading worship sessions, and helped with  rehabilitation sessions that were held in the local people’s homes.

“Sometimes we fail to recognize the hardships people go through with children with disabilities and illnesses, especially in India, where the culture does not treat women or the disabled well,” Hannah said. “As a therapist, I get to offer a glimpse of hope to these people.”
Prior to her trip to India, Hannah had an opportunity to use music therapy locally, thanks to WCU’s partnership with Forrest General Hospital. Currently, WCU students provide WCU weekly music therapy sessions to oncology and pediatric patients at FGH, giving students vital practicum experience while allowing Forrest General to expand its services and enhance patient care. Hannah’s experience working with FGH patients during the spring of 2013 trained her for her work in India.
In addition to the partnership with FGH, WCU has a similar setup with PineBelt Mental Health Resources, thanks to a recent grant from The Greater PineBelt Community Foundation. The foundation awarded $6,901 to a program called “Harnessing Adults Full Potential through Music Therapy,” which provides music therapy services to adults with intellectual disabilities at a day rehabilitation center to increase acquisition of skill building and activities for daily living.
Both of these partnerships are mutually beneficial to William Carey and the healthcare facilities.  Music therapy is a clinical and evidence-based health profession that uses music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional to address physical, emotional, cognitive and/or social needs.
“It is really special to me to see how what I learn at Carey can be put to use and change people emotionally, physically, and spiritually, both in the local community and in other parts of the world,” Hannah said.

For more information on WCU’s music therapy program, contact Jim Pierce, assistant professor of music therapy, at (601) 318-6249 or

Pictured is William Carey University senior music therapy student Hannah Melancon of Eunice, La., who spent summer 2013 in India, interning at the Bangalore Baptist Hospital. She used the music therapy skills and techniques she learned in the classroom to help patients at BBH, while also participating in missionary work in the local slums. Hannah continues to put her music therapy skills to practical use in the local community, through WCU’s partnerships between with Forrest General Hospital and PineBelt Mental Health Resources.