Expressive Therapies

At Dell Children’s, creative expression is another important facet of healing and growth. Our team of Board Certified art and music therapists use their creative modalities to help our children work through emotions, tap into their creativity, and have fun in an otherwise potentially difficult environment.

We identify art-making, musical expression, and play as developmentally appropriate activities for our children, allowing them to make choices and process thoughts and feelings regarding hospitalization. 

We have highly trained professionals who facilitate opportunities for children to engage in these very familiar forms of expression. Our music therapists and art therapists create a safe space for children of all ages to express themselves. Some of the key goals of expressive therapies are:

  1. Support the child and the family through psychosocial support
  2. Provide tools for the child to process their hospital experience and his or her diagnosis
  3. Decrease stress and anxiety through creative self-expression
  4. Decrease pain perception
  5. Improve self-esteem and confidence  
  6. Provide opportunities for legacy building and memory making
  7. Provide opportunities for developmental skill building and problem-solving
  8. Facilitate caregiver-specific support for coping with hospitalization

Expressive therapy services are a natural fit for family-centered care because the interventions are based upon familiar activities for kids and families. Below is more information about our art and music therapy services.

Art Therapy

What is art therapy?

Art Therapy, facilitated by a professional art therapist, effectively supports personal and relational treatment goals as well as community concerns. Art Therapy is used to improve cognitive and sensory-motor functions, foster self-esteem and self-awareness, cultivate emotional resilience, promote insight, enhance social skills, reduce and resolve conflicts and distress, and advance societal and ecological change (American Art Therapy Association, 2017). 

Art therapy is a service provided to children and their families to encourage expression of thoughts and feelings through art-making. This service is facilitated by a registered art therapist.

What does the art therapist do?

The art therapists on staff provide a variety of art materials to facilitate opportunities for patients and families to express feelings, problem solve, process procedures/diagnoses, and generally increase coping skills throughout hospitalization. Art-making is a familiar activity that promotes relaxation, autonomy, and positive interactions during a potentially difficult time. Art therapy materials may include:

  • Model Magic
  • Paint (watercolors and acrylics)
  • Drawing materials (watercolor pencils, oil pastels, markers, black “scratch art”)
  • Collage and scrapbooking materials
  • Many types of paper (colored construction/cardstock, drawing, watercolor, scrapbook, tissue, etc.)

Children’s Art Gallery

In addition to therapeutic art-making, some children benefit from the opportunity to display their artwork. The art therapist maintains a patient art gallery, located on 4 North facing the courtyard. Children are given the opportunity to submit artwork, with written consent, to the art therapist to be considered for display. Abstract or representational, these works often tell a story, express an emotion or simply represent an exploration of color and space. Artwork will remain in the gallery for at least six months.

The children and their families also have the opportunity to work together with local artists to create unique art pieces as part of the Art of Giving annual fundraising event.

Music Therapy

What is music therapy?

Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program (American Music Therapy Association, 2017).

Music therapy is a service that provides children with the opportunity to use music as a way to cope with hospitalization. This service is provided by a board-certified music therapist.

What does the music therapist do?

The music therapist on staff involves children in a variety of music experiences:

  • Instrument playing
  • Singing for self-expression
  • Songwriting
  • Music improvisation
  • Movement to music and musical games
  • Therapeutic music instruction
  • Relaxation and musical comfort
  • Song recording and music video creation

The music therapists individually design each session to meet the child’s needs. Sessions can be individual or include family members.

Expressive Therapy Group Sessions

In addition to individual sessions, the expressive therapy team conducts weekly group sessions throughout the hospital and over the closed circuit TV network. 

The music therapists conduct music groups in the 3 North playroom. All patients, siblings and parents are encouraged to attend. The music therapists lead the group in drumming, singing, dancing, and meaningful peer interactions. 

The art therapists conduct art groups including Open Studio for all patients and families and a teen art and music therapy group.

Our Team

Elizabeth Hendley, MA, ATR-BC

Elizabeth received her bachelor’s degree in Studio Art at the University of Texas at Austin and her master’s degree in Creative Arts Therapy at Hofstra University in New York. A Registered Art Therapist since 2005, Elizabeth has worked in schools, adult psychiatric settings, and hospitals in New York and Austin. Elizabeth spearheaded the Expressive Therapies program at Dell Children’s shortly after the hospital opened by volunteering her services, until philanthropic funding was provided for the part-time position she held for the next 12 years. Beginning in July 2019, through generous funding from Kendra Scott, Elizabeth was able to expand her role to full-time, which has rejuvenated her practice and served so many more patients and families. Elizabeth currently serves all inpatient units and conducts individual and group art therapy sessions.

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Carolyn Pennington, MA, ATR-BC

Carolyn is a board certified art therapist who joined the Expressive Therapies team at DCMC in 2020. Carolyn received her bachelor’s degree in neuropsych and communications at the University of Connecticut, and her masters in Art Therapy, with a concentration in medical trauma, at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Carolyn has worked in school programs and various medical settings focusing on the pediatric and adolescent populations. Carolyn currently serves all inpatient units and conducts individual and group art therapy sessions.

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Nicole Valerioti, MT-BC

Nicole joined the Expressive Therapy team at DCMC in 2019. She received her bachelor’s degrees in Music Therapy and Violin Performance from the University of Georgia. Nicole is a board-certified music therapist from Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for neurorehabilitation. Nicole currently serves all inpatient units and conducts individual and group music therapy sessions.

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Whitney Hewlett, MT-BC

Whitney joined the DCMC Expressive Therapy team in 2019. She grew up here in Austin and received her bachelor’s degree in Music Therapy from Southern Methodist University. Whitney is a board-certified music therapist who is passionate about using music to help our patients cope through their hospitalization. Whitney currently serves all inpatient units and conducts individual and group music therapy sessions.

Send her an email