Music Therapy: More Than Just a Song


Have you ever listened to a song that took you back to the memory of a specific time in your life, reminded you of a special person, made you feel relaxed or gave you energy?

There is definitely a certain power associated with music. Music can bring up emotions, memories, or special connections that link us socially or spiritually. For children, music can be a fun way to learn, relax and get through tough emotional or physical situations. It can help with communication, social skills and with other abilities. In fact, it's also been shown to reduce stress, which can help keep your immune system healthy.

The idea of using music to heal patients has been around since ancient times. The modern practice of using music in hospitals started after World War I and II when local musicians would travel to Veteran Hospitals to play for soldiers. The music helped lift their spirits and made them feel better. The first official music therapy degree program was offered at Michigan State University in 1944.

Defining Music Therapy

The American Music Therapy Association, founded in 1998, defines music therapy as, "an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals." There is definitely a healing power associated with music.

Benefits of Music Therapy

Stress Relief and Pain Management

As I mentioned earlier, calm, quiet music can be used to reduce stress and encourage relaxation. It has been documented that the state of relaxation caused by certain types of music can change brain wave patterns. Studies show that calming music can help stabilize blood pressure if listened to before, during and after surgery.

Speech and Language Improvement

Music uses pitch, rhythm and words, which are all part of speech and language. Learning to play instruments can help increase self-esteem and help patients develop hand and finger coordination. Listening to certain types of music can even assist a developing brain. Research has shown that music therapy encourages a type of learning that results in growth in the auditory and motor areas in the brain.

Coping Skills

Goals of music therapy are to make patients feel more at ease and assist them in getting through a traumatic experience. As the American Association of Music Therapy notes, "A therapist can talk with a client, but a qualified music therapist can use music to actively link a client to their psycho-emotional state quickly."

By doing so, a music therapist is able to help patients improve emotional adjustment, reduce anxiety and depression. Music therapy can help kids cope with loss and grief and help with their communication and social skills.

Overall, music therapy can improve coping abilities, manage pain and help with stressors associated with being a kid in the hospital. 

Music Therapy at Children's Hospital Los Angeles

At Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, licensed professional music therapists provide musical activities for our patients that include creating, singing, moving to and listening to music. This therapy provides ways for children to communicate and can facilitate rehabilitation.

Registered therapists work on our patient care units, in music workshops and with individual patients to provide diversions and distraction from medical stressors. The therapists and visiting musicians also use music to entertain patients. All these activities help patients deal with the stress that can be associated with illness and hospitalization. At Children's Hospital Los Angeles, kids can listen to soothing music before medical procedures or surgery to help decrease anxiety.

Music therapy here at Children's Hospital has been shown to decrease distress by 20 percent and decrease pain by approximately 10 percent. In 2007, there were 933 music therapy sessions provided at Children's Hospital. In 2010, there were 1,731  sessions and 4,479 sessions in 2011.

For more information about music therapy at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, visit the webpage for The Mark Taper and Johnny Mercer Artists Program. Parents and families can ask their child’s nurse to make a referral for music therapy.

Additionally, those interested in learning more about the music therapy profession can learn more about our expressive arts therapy internship.