About Music Therapy

As you know, music therapy provides our young patients with a unique source of comfort and strength. Your partnership ensures that many more children will experience its profound benefits, and as the program gains recognition, it will inspire widespread appreciation for music therapy. I am grateful that you share our dedication to caring for children's hearts and minds as well as their physical health.
Sam Hawgood, MBBS, Chancellor,
Peterson Family Foundation Music Therapy Program at UCSF

Ashley Cropped

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is the applied use of music by a certified music therapist to target clinical goal areas with music based strategies to promote positive health outcomes.

A popular and longstanding health psychology practice, music therapy addresses pain management, anxiety reduction, emotional health, social interaction, communication goals, cognitive rehab goals, physical rehab goals, palliative care, and normalization of the medical experience.


How Does Music Therapy Work?

Music therapists are referred to patients from doctors, nurses, and other allied health professionals. The therapist assesses the child's clinical needs, such as pain management, anxiety reduction, or emotional expression and creates a music based intervention to produce a positive health outcome.


Oliver Jacobson helps a young patient make music at the Benioff Children’s Hospital.

Music therapy varies from person to person based on their preferences and abilities; it can range from listening to or playing an instrument to actually composing and recording a personal song with a music therapist.

This type of therapy is especially effective for children because it provides an opportunity for self-discovery and an opportunity for the child to release difficult emotions that accompany a long hospital stay.

Why is Music Therapy Effective?

Music therapy offers a non-threatening, often non-verbal avenue to process trauma, make meaning from a medical experience, and reduce symptoms such as pain, anxiety, and nausea.


Research shows music therapy can positively affect a patient’s heart rate and breathing, especially when a strong rhythm is involved. It can also help release neurotransmitters (called endorphins) that trigger a positive feeling in the body and act as natural painkillers, reduce muscle tension and promote relaxation.

Evidence also suggests music helps release memories, negative emotions or repressed feelings. This is important in a patient’s healing process because it can bring about a positive change in their thoughts, behavior and attitude. You can read more about ways this type of therapy can help, including research into how the field benefits patients, in this blog post about music therapy.


How Does Music Therapy Help?

"My daughter’s response to music is immediate. Her heart rate slows, she relaxes her body, and her breathing becomes less labored.  One look at the guitar and her eyes light up. Use that guitar to play twinkle twinkle little star and the girl’s heart is yours. According to one of my daughter’s doctors, twinkle twinkle is more effective calming her than the strongest sedative! Music therapy is just as much for parents & caregivers. The hospital can be a scary, sterile, and unforgiving place. Music therapy softens the edges, calms the nerves, and refocuses.”

Kristin Chaset (Parent)

Parents have reported that music was the only thing to bring a smile to their child’s lips during their hospital admission.
Julie Pollman, Child Life Services teacher/supervisor,
Peterson Family Foundation Music Therapy Program at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco

Watching children sing and play instruments in our creative arts studio, you almost wouldn't know they were in the hospital. This is why music therapy is so important to their well-being while they are in our care: it makes each child feel like a person, not a patient.
Mark Laret, CEO, Peterson Family Foundation Music Therapy Program at UCSF Medical Center & UCSF Benioff Children's Hospitals

Alex playing instruments with his mother and music therapist.

Music Therapy is proven to:

Promote Wellness
Improve Communication
Promote Physical Rehabilitation
Express Feelings
Enhance Memory
Manage Stress
Alleviate Pain

Want to Help Bring Music Therapy to a Hospital Near You?

We would love you to consider partnering with us!
If you’d like to help provide for patients through music, please make a contribution here. Feel free to read our blog, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or contact us to learn more, too!