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Together is a new resource for anyone affected by pediatric cancer - patients and their parents, family members, and friends.

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Music Therapy

What is music therapy?

Music therapy uses music to promote healthy coping during medical treatments. It helps children express themselves and connect with others.

All patients can benefit from music therapy. A musical background or music skills are not needed.

Music therapists are part of the care team. They work with psychologists, social workers, and other experts to develop the best therapy for each child.

A child cancer patient and music therapist play guitar together.

Music therapy is tailored to fit each patient’s needs.

Benefits of music therapy

The brain processes information such as sights and sounds. These things help us make sense of the world around us. Music allows us to understand complex ideas.

Music therapy activates areas of the brain that control our emotions, memory, and physical movement.

Music therapy offers many benefits. It may help to:

  • Improve gross motor skills, which involve large muscle groups
  • Improve fine motor skills, which use the small muscles of the hands
  • Encourage movement during physical therapy or occupational therapy
  • Make patients more involved in treatment
  • Provide emotional support
  • Offer positive connections with the care team
  • Decrease feelings of pain and anxiety
  • Provide a way to express feelings
  • Create special memories
  • Decrease fear during medical care

Music can bring about powerful images, feelings, or thoughts. Talk with your child’s care team about how music therapy can be part of their care plan.

Types of music therapy

Music therapists use different activities as they work with patients. A patient in music therapy may:

  • Listen to music
  • Play instruments with or without help
  • Write and/or record songs
  • Sing
  • Move to music
  • Think about the meaning of song lyrics
A close-up of a child's hands playing piano

A patient may create music during music therapy—playing instruments, singing, or writing songs.

Music therapy for young children

The type of music therapy may vary by age and level of development. Infants in music therapy may:

  • Listen to music
  • Explore small instruments
  • Learn to self-regulate
  • Bond with caregivers

A music therapist may also ask the caregiver to sing to the infant. This activity has many benefits and may promote bonding of the child and the caregiver.

Music therapy can help toddlers:

  • Adjust to the hospital
  • Become more comfortable with medical staff
  • Know what to expect during transitions or medical appointments
  • Grow and develop in positive ways

Music therapy for school-aged children

For school-aged children, music therapy can help with physical, emotional, social, and academic needs. It offers the chance to express thoughts and feelings that may be difficult to express. It can help them:

  • Manage anxiety
  • Manage pain
  • Engage with other patients their own age
  • Learn positive coping skills
  • Be creative
  • Maintain or regain movement skills

Music therapy for teens

Older children and teens in music therapy may listen to, create, or study music and lyrics. Music therapy can help teens:

  • Relax and improve sleep
  • Understand and better express emotions
  • Be more motivated
  • Maintain social connections
  • Improve self-esteem
  • Be more independent
  • Remain active and involved in their treatment

Questions to ask your care team about music therapy

  • How can I have music therapy join my child’s care team?
  • If a music therapy program is not available, how can music support my child’s treatment?
  • In what areas may music therapy benefit my child?

Key points about music therapy

  • Music therapy can help with patients’ emotional, social, and physical needs.
  • A music therapist can help patients of any age stimulate movement, increase emotional well-being, and express themselves creatively.
  • Music therapy aims to meet the individual needs of each patient.
  • Ask your care team about how music therapy can fit into your child’s treatment.

Reviewed: October 2023