General Health

Experiencing the Power of Music Therapy in the CHNOLA Behavioral Health Program

Roger Botello and Elise Chaky
Experiencing the Power of Music Therapy in the CHNOLA Behavioral Health Program

Music is more than just a cluster of notes and chords. It can bring your mind back to a moment in time. It can relax you, improve sleep and motor functions, and reduce stress. It has significant impacts on mood, attitude, and overall health. It can bring people together socially and assist with better self-expression and communication. Music creates a nearly automatic physical response, encouraging your body to move – from toe tapping to dancing. Your heartbeat can actually change to mimic the music you’re listening to!

Patients in the creative therapies program at Children’s Hospital New Orleans (CHNOLA) often state that music helps them feel calm while gaining a sense of relief from various symptoms of depression and anxiety. While working with adolescents experiencing psychosis, teens use music to alleviate feelings of paranoia and isolation. In group therapy sessions, patients often state that they are surprised by their own innate musicality and ability to express themselves musically.

What are some of the benefits of music therapy?

  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Improving memory
  • Enhancing social skills
  • Promoting self-reflection
  • Reducing muscle tension
  • Developing coping skills
  • Increasing motivation
  • Managing pain

Music is a whole-body experience, and the music therapy sessions can address a variety of cognitive, emotive, and behavioral goals. As a part of the treatment team, music therapists inform psychiatrists, nurses, and social workers of patient progress while enhancing the overall patient experience.

The program consists of two board-certified and licensed music therapists, who work with the treatment team, to address patient goals – either individually or through group therapy. The therapists take patients on a musical journey, so they can feel the real power that only music can provide.

How does music therapy help?

Music therapy can also build confidence and provide a source of inner strength when you need it the most. For example, a teenager came into the music room and was curious about playing the electric guitar. He had never touched a guitar before and did not have the first clue of how to play one. The therapist showed him a position for a chord or two, and moments later, he was strumming like a rock star. With each movement of his pick across the strings, he felt the vibrations and heavy distortion from the amplifier. It was his music. His sound. After two minutes of jumping and strumming the guitar in his hands, he stopped and turned to the therapist, wide-eyed, and said, “All I have to do is just play like I mean it! Even if I am not sure about what to do, I can just play it with confidence – and it works!”

What that teenager was feeling went beyond the conceptual and helped him gain a sense of control over his anxiety. Music therapy offers this type of self-actualizing experience for children in the behavioral health program at CHNOLA.

How do you engage in music therapy?

Every therapy session is designed for each child depending on the patient’s cognitive development and level of experience in music. The best part is that no prior musical experience is necessary to take part, because music therapists are trained to facilitate successful musical experiences regardless of the patient’s musical background.

In the behavioral health program, music can be experienced actively and passively:

What is Active Music Therapy? Active music experiences involve patients gaining the experience of playing a variety of instruments. These active musical experiences are typically based upon a therapeutic theme such as communication, self-esteem, cognitive behavioral therapy, self-regulation, and family dynamics. In these active musical experiences, improvised music is often generated by the therapist at the piano, guitar, or drums to encourage patients to take part in making music co-actively in the session where music involving various musical styles and idioms such as Jazz, Hip-Hop, Reggae, Blues, Rock, Pop, as well as South American and Eastern music are explored.

What is Passive Music Therapy? This experience involves listening to music and relating that experience to social and emotional concepts. This can involve creating an emotional playlist, lyric analysis or other games such as “Music Bingo” or “Name That Tune” where coping skills, group rapport, and a patient’s social environment can be addressed.

Music is the language of emotions. The future of mental health and children involves the creation of an environment where they can be artistic and creative to express their uniqueness without fear of being judged by the quality of their expression. Music is as an integral part of human development, and with the proper guidance, music can play an essential role in a developing a persons’ overall health and wellbeing. That is why it is such a vital part of the behavioral health program at CHNOLA, and it’s offered every day of the week to any child in the program needing an outlet for expression.

To learn more about the Child Life and Creative Therapies at CHNOLA, visit our website at