August 30, 2023

Music therapy program now offered to patients on three additional units at VUH

Following a successful pilot program, music therapy is now being offered to patients on three additional units at Vanderbilt University Hospital.

Music therapist Tori Langham, MT-BC, works with patient Kevin Keach in the adult Palliative Care unit. (photo by Susan Urmy)
Music therapist Tori Langham, MT-BC, works with patient Kevin Keach in the adult Myelosuppression Unit. (photo by Susan Urmy)

Patients and families at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt are very familiar with the music therapy program.

For nearly 20 years, the program that focuses on the use of music to help with chronic pain, physical rehabilitation, psychiatric symptoms, end of life, procedural support and coping with hospitalization and disease has been a staple of therapeutic techniques.

After the successful pilot of the program for adults in 2022, music therapy is now offered to patients on three additional units at Vanderbilt University Hospital.

The expansion is literally music to Tori Langham’s ears.

Langham, a board-certified music therapist is the Patient and Family Centered Care staff member who works with the adult patient population on the Palliative Care, Myelosuppression and Oncology units.

“Our goal is to improve the patient’s experience,” said Langham. “It’s been remarkable the impact our program is having. We are not just helping our patients, but staff as well. We all need support and to know what we are doing matters.”

Langham reflected on the significant effect that a music therapy session had on one of her patients in the Palliative Care Unit.

“She was in so much pain — grimacing, restless …” recalled Langham. “The lady went from grimacing and crying to falling asleep with no medication, just music therapy.

“I matched the rhythm of her labored breathing and restless motions to the rhythm of my guitar. I was able to calm her.”

Called entrainment, the well-documented technique allows the body to gradually sync an external rhythm, in this case Langham’s guitar strumming.

Langham’s work often involves the management of anxiety, pain and relaxation using her music therapy interventions.

“We actually witnessed a patient using music therapy for a week and come off of anxiety medications,” said Langham. “We were able to wean her.”

Music therapists use evidence-based research protocols to enhance clinical goals through music that is personalized to a patient’s clinical needs and goals. Sessions range between 15 minutes to two hours.

Music is such a powerful force for healing, said Andy Wooldridge, MD, assistant professor of Palliative Care and Internal Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Wooldridge advocates for music therapy through his role as Program Director of Arts and Humanities in Healthcare for the Department of Medicine.

“Our overall vision is to enhance well-being on all levels at VUMC through the arts and humanities, and improving the patient experience with music therapy is a cornerstone of this broad initiative,” said Wooldridge. “Our patients and families have said that music therapy provides a unique dimension of healing when they come to our hospital. It heals in a different way than any of the other care we provide.

“It is also so uplifting for me and other care team members to see how much our patients love music therapy. I didn’t expect the cascade of benefits there could be for the rest of us to have Tori involved in our team and to see the power of music therapy in action.”

Both Langham and Wooldridge hope to grow the program to include more music therapists and expand to other areas of the adult hospital with financial support from the community.

A giving page was created to help bring the healing power of creative arts-based therapies to more patients: “Philanthropy makes our music therapy program possible.” To learn more, visit

In addition to the adult population, the long-established pediatric music therapy program is also growing into new clinical areas with an expansion to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Dana Kim, MA, MT-BC, NICU MT, a board-certified music therapist at Monroe Carell for more than seven years, will lead the NICU music therapy program.

“Music therapy also plays a significant role in celebrating and supporting each family’s culture,” said Kim. “Music therapists work with families to safely incorporate preferred music and caregivers’ voices into their child’s care.”

NICU music therapy focuses on providing safe and effective evidence-based music interventions to promote neurodevelopmental stimulation, increase infant rest and regulation, and provide opportunities for caregiver attachment and bonding.

“Dr. Woolridge has been an amazing partner as we set out to put this program in place, and the staff and faculty embraced it from the beginning, and even more so now that they have seen it in action,” said Janet Cross, Senior Director of Patient and Family Centered Care at Monroe Carell. “Our hope is to use a pilot model to provide small tests of change in different areas of the adult enterprise to expose others to music therapy and gain support for program growth.”

Cross said Monroe Carell has been fortunate to have the financial support of the Tom Fouce family to help build the foundation of the music therapy program in their son, Julian’s, memory.

“We have continued to grow incrementally since inception of the program and are thrilled to be able to expand services to the NICU,” she said. “There is much evidence that supports the use of music therapy in the neonatal setting, and it will be exciting to add this service for patients and families.”

Monroe Carell has three board-certified music therapists on staff who all have advanced NICU music therapy training to provide coverage for infants and families’ needs throughout hospitalization.