Child life and expressive therapy

Child life specialists at Dell Children’s provide emotional and therapeutic support for your child while they are receiving care.

Toddler playing with blocks.

Child life and expressive therapy at Dell Children's

Certified child life specialists at Dell Children’s are experienced in helping children and families cope with stress and other challenges while they are receiving care in the hospital or in our clinics. Our team meets with your child and family and works with you to determine the right plan for support. And we work with doctors and care teams caring for patients in all pediatric specialties, including the NICU, ER, surgery, radiology, mental health, neurology, cardiology, blood and cancer, and more. When your child is feeling anxious about tests or procedures, our specialists can provide positive distractions to help calm your child. And if your child is staying in the hospital, we offer therapeutic, emotional, educational and social support. Our goal is to help make being at the hospital a more positive experience for children and families.

Benefits of having a child life specialist

Certified child life specialists at Dell Children’s work closely with your child and your family. Together, we create a care plan that helps your child cope with being in the hospital. Your child life specialist helps your child feel comfortable while they are receiving care – focusing on their mental and emotional health needs. For questions or to request more information, please call 512-324-0146. Child life specialists provide support, including:
  • Education about conditions and procedures
    If your child is facing a diagnosis or procedure, they may have anxious feelings. Our specialists have expertise working with children in a healthcare setting. Using play and plain language, we can help explain your child's diagnosis, tests and treatments in a way they understand. We also take the time to listen to your child’s concerns and encourage them to ask questions. Helping your child understand what to expect can help ease anxious feelings. And we can work with your child to develop positive coping skills and strategies that they can use in any stressful situation.
  • Distraction and relaxation
    Some diagnostic tests or procedures can feel scary or feel stressful for a child. Using relaxation techniques and positive distraction methods, we can help your child focus on an activity rather than their procedure. Child life specialists help reduce your child’s stress during tests and procedures. Sometimes, we can eliminate the need for anesthesia during an imaging procedure by helping your child stay calm and still.
  • Therapeutic play
    Your child’s specialist encourages therapeutic activities that are appropriate for your child. This can help make the hospital stay a little easier and can help encourage cooperation during tests. Play can also help your child express their fears and feelings. A therapeutic care plan for your child may also include art therapy, music therapy, recreation therapy, animal-assisted therapy, or virtual reality and video games with our patient technology specialist.
  • Art therapy
    Art therapy, provided by a certified art therapist, helps your child and family express feelings, problem solve, process procedures and diagnoses, increase coping skills and may help improve sensory-motor function. Art-making is a familiar activity that promotes relaxation and positive interactions. In addition to therapeutic art-making, some children benefit from the opportunity to display their artwork in Dell Children’s art gallery.
  • Music therapy
    Music therapy, provided by a certified music therapist, gives children the opportunity to use music as a way to cope while being in the hospital. Music therapists individually design each session to meet your child’s needs. Sessions can be individual or include family members. Music therapy includes playing instruments, singing, songwriting and more.
  • Expressive group therapy
    In addition to individual therapy, some children may benefit from participating in weekly group sessions. These sessions take place throughout the hospital and over Dell Children’s TV, our in-hospital TV network. Dell Children’s TV allows children who can’t leave their room to participate in group activities, such as bingo.
  • Animal-assisted therapy
    Our medical facility therapy dog program, emBark, uses specially trained therapy dogs. Therapy dogs can provide comfort and distraction during medical procedures. And they can provide positive encouragement during physical therapy and occupational therapy. All therapy dog work is supervised by a certified handler.
  • Educational support
    Child life specialists and expressive therapists offer emotional support for your child and your entire family – parents, siblings and other caregivers – when a child is facing a serious condition or major surgery, and while receiving care. We listen and provide compassionate support, including grief and bereavement support.
  • Connection to additional resources
    Child life specialists and expressive therapists also help connect you with other resources at Dell Children’s and in the community.

Additional information and resources

Child life internship

Dell Children's Medical Center's Child Life Internship Program is designed to support career training for those who are currently enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate degree in child life, child development, or a related field and are looking to advance in the child life profession. 

Find out more and apply

Child life practicum

Dell Children's Medical Center's Child Life Practicum Program is designed for individuals interested in pursuing a career as a certified child life specialist. It is an opportunity to learn more about the child life profession and to observe and participate in child life services. The child life practicum is focused on developing core skills in order to prepare students for a child life internship. 

Find out more and apply

Special events

Are you looking for an opportunity to support children and families at Dell Children’s? Activities provided by groups in the community help reduce feelings of stress and provide a positive distraction from a routine day in the hospital. There are many opportunities for community groups to volunteer to host a special event with the child life team throughout the year. Please contact the special events coordinator to learn how your group can become involved. Email or call 512-324-0146


You can help children in the hospital by making a monetary donation or a donation of new toys, games and other supplies. Please call 512-324-0146 for donation questions and guidelines. Donations may be mailed to Dell Children’s Medical Center, Attn: Child Life, 4900 Mueller Blvd., Austin, TX 78723.

Child life and expressive therapy