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Understanding the Use of Music Therapy in Pediatric Healthcare

Music-Therapy For the past few weeks I have been playing one particular song on repeat. I mean, every time I get in my car I have to turn it up loud and sing along. I just HAVE to. It is partially the lyrics that resonate with my current situation and partially the groove that fills me from the inside out and transports me, for three-and-a-half minutes, into my own little world complete with dance moves. I feel energized and lighter and like I can tackle the world after I listen to it so I play it over and over and over. I imagine many of you have similar experiences with music in your own life; please tell me I’m not the only one. In nearly every culture music holds an important history from bringing people together to soothing raging emotions. Music has innately therapeutic effects and can be easily accessed by anyone and it is this very phenomenon that has created the foundation for many arts programs to exist within hospitals for the sole purpose of helping and healing. At Texas Children’s Hospital we are lucky to have a variety of programs that regularly bring music and music experiences to our patients, helping them tap into the natural feel good benefits of music.  Volunteer musicians provide music in lobbies and waiting rooms. Recorded music is available in multiple hospital areas to calm and positively distract patients. In addition to these music offerings, Texas Children’s has a developing Music Therapy program. So, what is music therapy and how is it different from music programs that are already established?  Music therapy is a profession that requires specific training, education and board-certification ( Music therapists study the neurological, psychological and physical effects of music in order to implement interventions that help patients reach designated goals. For example, specific music therapy interventions are beneficial to infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) helping decrease overstimulation and positively affect weight gain and growth (Standley, 2002; Loewy et al, 2013). Live music therapy interventions help patients with specific rehabilitation goals such as awareness and cognition after injury (Bower et al, 2014). At Texas Children’s, the music therapy program was established 2 years ago in the NICU and inpatient rehabilitation unit. While it is still a small program, with just one music therapist – me, this fall marks the beginning of a nationally accredited music therapy clinical internship program right here at Texas Children’s. Additionally, I am working with individual units throughout the hospital to gather data in an effort to continue to expand music therapy services to even more patients and families. The bottom line is that music is everywhere and there are undoubtedly therapeutic effects that can be accessed just through listening to your favorite tune, or in my case finding a song that means something to you and playing it on repeat. But, the field of music therapy takes that therapeutic value a step further through knowing the needs of the patient, understanding the effects of music on the brain and body and designing specific music interventions to reach a goal.  For a closer look inside the music therapy program at Texas Children’s click here.  For questions and more information about music therapy, visit the American Music Therapy Association website, or contact me, Amy Smith at


American Music Therapy Association (

Bower, J., Catroppa, C., Grocke, D., Shoemark, H. (2014). Music therapy for early cognitive rehabilitation post-childhood TBI: An intrinsic mixed methods case study. Developmental Neurorehabilitation, 17(5), 339–346

Loewy, J., Stewart, K., Dassler, A., Telsey, A. & Homel, P. (2013). The effects of music therapy on vital signs, feeding, and sleep in premature infants. Pediatrics, 131(5), 902-918.

Standley, J.M. (2002). A meta-analysis of the efficacy of music therapy for premature infants. Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 17(2), 107-113.

Amy Smith, music therapist