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Music Therapy

Services - Music Therapy

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    In The Royal Children's Hospital (RCH) specific inpatient areas have dedicated Music Therapy staff (see clinical programs below) and referrals are required through EMR. For areas where there is not a dedicated Music Therapist, please also make a referral via the EMR. Music Therapy is located on Level 1 of the East Building in Allied Health.

     Parents can ask their bedside nurse or care manager about making a referral.

    Please be aware that the Music Therapy team does have waiting lists, and may not be able to provide immediate service.

    Clinical programs

    Adolescent Program

    The adolescent ward at the RCH acknowledges the unique needs of young people at this developmental stage. Forming and displaying identity through music is accessible and popular amongst this age group. As young people define themselves, in the context of their life stage and their reasons for admission, music therapy aims to remind them of their ‘healthy and musical self’. Young people can often identify with artists who may reflect their own world view and put words to their sometimes difficult experiences. Engagement with music therapy can nurture insight, highlight strengths, and build confidence and has become an integral part of the care provided for young people who come through the hospital. 

     The music therapist works with young people in group settings or individually, focusing on psychosocial support that holds the patients’ needs at the centre of practice. There are opportunities for verbal expression through things like sharing song preferences and exploring why they are meaningful to the young person and non-verbal expression such as playing songs and instruments to greater understand complex emotions.

    The adolescent music therapy program is well equipped and continues to expand with age relevant music technology. Accessible instruments help to break down the barriers for patients by offering intuitive and tactile playing, regardless of skill level or ability. Music software and electronic instruments can help young people to feel motivated to participate. Further, young people can record their own music or songs that they have composed while in hospital to keep as a meaningful and transitional object.

    The adolescent music therapy program also considers life after hospital and how the young people can continue using music in a supportive, connective and healthy way ongoing. Providing personalised discharge plans and referrals for relevant music programs in the community are important aspects for continuity of service and facilitating the young person’s transition out of hospital.

    Children's Cancer Centre


    Labs and Lines Clinic

    The journey for the child with cancer can take several years from diagnosis to resolution.  Music Therapy provides the unique service of accompanying the child for the entire journey. Music Therapy interventions are aimed at diminishing anxiety while encouraging active engagement with a patient's environment.  Engagement enables children to develop positive, active coping strategies to manage their anxiety and stress.  Music can alter stressful characteristics of the hospital environment and help divert the patient's attention away from a source of distress.   A child's mood can shift to a more positive state as they begin to experience success and mastery in their environment. Engagement in music helps children maximise the positive experience they share with families, other children and staff. This has important implications in helping children cope with stressful treatments and long-term side-effects. The experience of creating music together has been a source of comfort and support for many families during hospitalisation.

    Newborn Intensive Care and Infant Program

    The Newborn Intensive Care and Infant Program gives priority services to infants under the age of 12 months and their families with a focus on the Neonatal Unit. We know that hospitalisation does not support normal infant development (Malloch et al in press), and therefore we provide formal intervention to encourage development. At birth, infants are "wired" for the sound of their mother's voice as part of their survival mechanism (Graven, 2008) and therefore the use of singing and music is full of potential.

    Music Therapy is a service which promotes healthy positive development within the hospital experience. Two main modalities are used:

    • Making music together – Infant-directed singing is an experience in which parent and infant are uniquely attuned to each other, promoting healthy attachment. The act of singing encourages mothers or fathers to breathe more deeply, and to become focused on their baby as a baby rather than a patient.
    • Recorded Music – The Music Therapist works with the family to create a small library of recorded music. The music is introduced over several days by the parents, to build a solid psychological association between the music and their loving care. Then the music may be used to support the infant in transition to sleep, post-procedure or in unsettled times. 

    The Music Therapy for Vulnerable Infants study provided us with data to clearly explain the value of singing. Results from a neurobehavioral assessment of the infants suggested that Music Therapy helps infants to cope with hospitalisation.  Infants who did not receive the therapy deteriorated on scales of irritability and crying, while infants who did receive the therapy demonstrated much greater resilience on these measures.

    Neurosciences Program

    Music Therapy in the Children's Neuroscience Centre provides services to babies, children and adolescents with disorders, illness and/or injuries of the brain and nerves. The program serves patients in the Children's Neuroscience Centre and the Intensive Care Unit with priority given to long term patients. Music Therapy provides a unique opportunity to address the often complex and multiple needs of children with neurologic conditions.

    Music Therapy for children with neurologic conditions is based on knowledge of the brain's processing of music and the influence of music on non-musical functions, including motor, cognitive, sensory and emotional. Assessment for service considers the individual patient, including health status, age, musical preferences, family and hospital environment.

    Rehabilitation Service

    Rehabilitation is often a challenging time for children. As part of the multi-disciplinary team, music therapy aims to improve the functional abilities of children and young people following major illness, injury or procedure.  As a familiar medium, music may give meaning and increase motivation for repetitive rehabilitation tasks. Music Therapy treatments for rehabilitation patients vary greatly according to the child and may address speech and language or motor rehabilitation as well as the social and emotional aspect of recovery. Children are encouraged to become actively involved in their Music Therapy program, both in the planning and implementation. 

    Cardiac, Intensive Care Unit, Palliative Care

    In these units, infants and children with complex medical needs and their families require services which offer age-appropriate, cautiously constructed interplay to support state regulation, mastery of environment, the need for self-expression without traversing thresholds for energy expenditure.

    Mental Health

    Music Therapy in the Mental Health unit is utilised to improve patients' moods, lower anxiety, reduce depression, reduce distress, improve sleep, build rapport between patients and staff, assist patient to identify and express their emotions and provide patients with a positive experience in hospital. Music Therapy can also equip patients with the ability to use music as a positive health resource which could potentially form part of their recovery once discharged.

    Paediatric Music Therapy Clinical Training Program

    The RCH Music Therapy team has provided clinical training placements to Music Therapy students from accredited Australian Music Therapy courses since 1991.  

    Music Therapy students provide additional music therapy services supervised by the clinical supervisor.  The clinical supervisor is responsible for placing students appropriately within the hospital, direct observation of student work, supervision, debriefing, and co-ordination of supporting activities.  

    Staff consultation

    On request, Music Therapists consult about the application of music in the hospital environment. They work with staff to prepare suitable auditory stimulation for areas such as the ward, treatment rooms, bathrooms, and activity rooms. Contact

    The Music Therapy team offer introductory sessions three times per year to people interested in seeing and hearing about their work. The sessions run from 9am–12.30pm and include an introduction to Music Therapy in the Paediatric Hospital setting, followed by short presentations from RCH Music Therapists which include video footage of their work. The areas covered include Newborn Intensive Care, Rehabilitation, Adolescents and Cancer. If you are interested in attending one of these sessions contact

    Seminars and lectures

    The Music Therapists present lectures, seminars and talks to professional and community groups.  If you are interested in having a Music Therapist speak to your group please contact our department on 9345 5421, or email Beth Dun A fee is charged for this service.