Research shows the value of music therapy for helping hospitalized kids feel better, heal faster and go home sooner. UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals were the first Bay Area pediatric facilities to embrace that research and establish a music therapy program for children.

Our music therapists are part of the patient care team and work closely with doctors, nurses and other types of therapists. They provide individual and group sessions to support children and their families in coping with illness, injury and hospitalization. All have advanced degrees in music therapy and are highly trained in caring for kids.

Because no two patients react to music therapy the same way, our therapists carefully observe responses and customize each session to individual needs. A session might include musical improvisation, therapeutic drumming, singing, songwriting or simply listening. Music therapy is provided for hospitalized children when requested by your child's doctor, a member of the nursing staff, a social worker or a child life specialist.

How music therapy supports health

Music brings the mind, body and spirit together in ways that can be transformative. Our program uses music therapy to help children and teenagers:

  • Manage pain
  • Reduce stress and relax
  • Relearn to walk, talk or move
  • Express emotions
  • Build resilience and develop coping strategies
  • Connect creatively with other patients
  • Find enjoyment and peace while in the hospital

We also provide music therapy in our Intensive Care Nursery, where music can help:

  • Reduce babies' stress, so they can sleep better
  • Promote brain development
  • Build tolerance of light, sound and touch in newborns
  • Encourage feeding and weight gain
  • Support bonding with parents
  • Foster wellness, so that babies can go home sooner

Group music therapy

Every week, we offer opportunities for patients and families to come together and blend their creative energies through music. Some days, we may invite patients to come up with the next rock anthem or hip-hop hit, as we help them write, perform and record original songs using professional equipment. Other days, we may set up the studio for karaoke, for jamming on drums, for building a band, or just for listening to and singing along with favorite tunes.

In San Francisco, sessions typically take place in the creative arts studio; in Oakland, they're held in the main playroom. Due to COVID-19, our San Francisco program is currently holding sessions via Zoom and our Oakland program has temporarily suspended group therapy.

Bedside music therapy

Music therapy in a child's hospital room is offered on a referral basis. After identifying a need, a doctor, nurse or other staff member can request a visit from one of our music therapists. These individual music therapy sessions might involve:

  • Playing instruments for emotional expression or release
  • Singing for expression, improved breath control or to work on challenging speech sounds
  • Finding connection and inspiration in song lyrics
  • Working toward developmental milestones through musical play
  • Family music-making for stress reduction

Each session is tailored to the strengths and needs of the child and family.