Music therapy strikes a chord with patients and families

UCLA music therapist Jenna Bollard.
UCLA music therapist Jenna Bollard.

How do you help a child who’s become so fearful in the hospital that she has stopped speaking? The answer may be “Blowin’ in the Wind” — or maybe “Fight Song.” Whichever tunes moved this little girl to speak, it was music to her music therapist’s ears.

Stories like these are why staff and families flag down Jenna Bollard, who strides the halls of Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA with her guitar strapped to her back. They want to know how to get a patient on her treatment list. Bollard is a music therapist who helps patients and their families cope during tough treatments and lengthy hospital stays.

“Music is such a powerful way to connect with people, especially during difficult times,” Bollard says. “I work closely with patients and families to identify what’s best for them. Then, we’ll use therapy a number of different ways — singing together, writing songs, recording music or creating playlists. It’s really about the patient, the family and their needs.”

Music may be art, but the therapy is based in science. Music therapy uses evidence-based musical interventions to address a patient’s specific needs and help them meet individual therapy and treatment goals. It has been proven to help reduce anxiety, foster family bonding, provide an emotional outlet, and help patients refocus and relax during procedures.

Music therapy had a lasting impact for one family. Siblings who couldn’t visit the hospital joined their little brother’s music-therapy sessions via video chat. The siblings wrote songs, which Bollard and their parents sang to the patient during sessions. The lyrics and songs were captured electronically so the family has a special record of their journey.

“I feel very fortunate to be able to give these kids the tools they need to process and express their emotions during a very scary time,” says Bollard.

For some patients, music therapy offers new ways to endure difficult treatments or procedures. When one patient struggled with chest exercises during physical therapy sessions, music therapy helped him do it to the beat of music. This distracted and refocused him — and turned a traumatic exercise into something relaxing and fun.

Lullabies also help calm babies in the neonatal intensive care unit. Music therapy helps regulate heart and breathing rates, increase oxygen in the blood, promote feeding, bonding, weight gain, relaxation and brain development, and helps babies better tolerate stimuli.

Even parents and siblings benefit from music therapy. “It’s really been amazing to see the power of music in some of these patients’ and families’ lives,” says Bollard. “I’ve seen firsthand the transformation that can happen when music is part of patient care.”

To learn more about music therapy, visit

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