Philosophy of Music Therapy at Blank Children's Hospital
Blank Children's Hospital

Philosophy of Music Therapy at Blank Children's Hospital

The Music Therapy Program at Blank bases music therapy practice on principles of humanist psychotherapists such as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.  Music Therapy services are patient –centered.  A safe, supportive environment is provided for the patient to express herself and participate in enjoyable, creative (even collaborative) music centered activities.  Music Therapy practice at Blank is relationship based.  As Carl Rogers put it, “change appears to come about through experience in a relationship…If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth, and change and personal development will occur” (Rogers, p. 33).  A child’s growth and development can obviously be disrupted by chronic illness and/or hospitalization.  The Music Therapy Program at Blank provides distraction, opportunities for self-expression and opportunities for further growth and development in the hopes of limiting those disruptions as much as possible.

Regarding a child’s growth and development Maslow states, “We can’t force him to grow, we can only coax him to, make it more possible for him, in the trust that simply experiencing the new experience will make him prefer it.  Only he can prefer it; no one can prefer it for him.  If it is to become part of him, he must like it.  If he doesn’t, we must gracefully concede that it is not for him at this moment” (Maslow, p. 50).  Music therapy is particularly useful in “coaxing” a child to grow, because so many children and adults alike are attracted to music.  The Music Therapy Program at Blank provides a large number of music-centered interventions for children and adults of varying ages, abilities and interests.  Music-centered music therapy is “deeply rooted in one’s personal experience in music” (Aigen, p.18).  Meaning that music is not just a tool used to achieve non-musical therapeutic goals, but that the goal of music-centered work is “the achievement of experiences and expression specific and unique to music.  In this view the clinical and the musical are not separable.  What is achieved through the music cannot be approached in any other way because musical experiences and expression are the goals of therapy” (Aigen, p.20).  Aigen explains that the non-musical therapeutic goals are still achieved, but that they are achieved as a byproduct of the client’s ability to engage in the music.  

Depending on the needs, strengths and the interests of patients and their families, any one music therapy session at Blank Children’s Hospital can look very different from another.  The American Music Therapy Association’s document entitled Music Therapy and Medicine lists many benefits music therapy provides patients and families in a medical setting such as anxiety and stress reduction, non-pharmacological management of pain, positive changes in emotional states, active patient and family participation in treatment, decreased length of hospital stay, increased intimacy with families and caregivers, relaxation and fun provided for the entire family and meaningful time spent (Music Therapy, 2006).  The music therapy program at Blank Children’s Hospital provides all of the above opportunities to patients and their caregivers, and many of these interventions can be divided into two main groups:  1) Passive music therapy interventions and 2) Active music therapy interventions.  

Passive music therapy interventions include interventions such as music-assisted relaxation (MAR) for patients and caregivers seeking anxiety, stress and/or pain reduction; or simply providing soothing music on voice and guitar at the bedside of an unresponsive patient.  Sometimes the caregivers are present and sometimes no caregivers are present for this type of intervention.  Often caregivers report that unresponsive patients “appear calmer” when passive music therapy interventions are provided.   Many nurses in the pediatric intensive care unit, or PICU, here at Blank request music therapy for unresponsive patients who for whatever reason do not have a caregiver or family at the bedside.  Active music therapy interventions include musical activities patients can engage in such as musical improvisation, instrument play, therapeutic instrument instruction, song sharing and discussion, and collaborative songwriting.  Some patients engage in multiple music-making activities.  The Blank Music Therapy Program is very interested in engaging patients and family in creative and collaborative music making and also the use of technology to support projects that include original songs and CD’s for the purpose of memory-making, for example.

When children are hospitalized their lives and their families’ lives are disrupted.  Providing patients and their families with the opportunity to engage in musical experiences that challenge or inspire them can fill a space in these disrupted lives with meaning and even beauty.  Music is an almost universal part of the human experience.  If we are not only allowed, but encouraged and supported in making or enjoying our own music – we are better able to sustain ourselves at those times – such as hospitalization – when our individuality and humanity can feel stripped.  We can continue on our life’s journey if we remain inspired and connected to who we are and who we strive to be.  We can continue to live our lives – no matter how sick we may be.  Music can be the glue that keeps us connected to ourselves.  The role of music therapist at Blank is that of witness and facilitator:  I see you – sickness or no.  I am here to help you celebrate who you are and what you can achieve.

Aigen, K. (2014). Music-centered dimensions of Nordoff-Robbins music therapy. Music Therapy 
, 32(1), 18-29.

Maslow, A.H. (2011). Toward a Psychology of Being. Blacksburg, VA: Wilder Publications.

Music Therapy. (2006). In Music Therapy and Medicine. Retrieved from

Rogers, C.R. (1961). On Becoming a Person. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.