Music Therapy for children and young people – promoting wellbeing and improving life changes in early development by Stephen Sandford

 Music therapyChelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust are pretty unique in that they provide a whole range of music therapy  for children and young people in a whole range of settings, including the Chelsea Children’s Hospital, the child development services and in local children’s centres.  This range of integrated individual and group work allows maximum use of music therapy to promote wellbeing and development in children and support parents to see how music can be used effectively to promote relationships and interaction.

Music has always been a powerful tool for expression.  It can touch our emotions deeply and allows for a freedom of communication which needs no words.  Music Therapy uses shared music-making to help children and young people at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital cope more effectively with their lives and their difficulties and to allow them to demonstrate their potential more fully.

In sessions the therapist and the child make music together, the music made is shared and spontaneous. Therapist and child establish a musical relationship in which emotions can be expressed, explored and worked through within a safe environment. Parents are actively involved and work in sessions links to benefitting family relationships around a child.

Chelsea and Westminster Hospital Music therapy is an organising member of a new exciting international music in health research group.   MANDARI - Music for the neuro-developmentally at Risk Infant focuses on developing further research in the use of music within early development including neonatal care.

Delegates from the USA, Australia, Europe and the UK included music therapists, paediatric neurologists, child psychiatrists, neonatal nurses, psycho-biologists, parents and composers all attended the first meeting of this new international group in London in July.

At the final public event at Imperial College, Dr Joanne Loewy Music therapist and Director of the Louis Armstrong Centre for Music & Medicine, New York, shared moving videos of babies and their carers engaged in music therapy.   She captivated a packed audience showing how carefully using live music, played or sung, helped to slow infants’ heartbeats, calmed their breathing, improved sucking behaviors important for feeding, aid sleep and promoted states of quiet alertness.  Doctors and researchers say that by reducing stress and stabilising vital signs, music can allow fragile infants to devote more energy to normal development and in turn leave hospital sooner.  This important research with 272 babies across 11 hospitals in the USA was published in the USA medical Journal Pedatrics and then made it onto the front page of the New York Times!  Chelsea and Westminster hopes that they can build on their long history of providing music therapy and develop further international collaboration so that these music therapy services for neonatal care can develop further within the UK.  If you want to find out more about music therapy at Chelsea and Westminster you can access further information and videos at

Stephen Sandford is a Music Therapist at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust

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