Music Therapy

June 21, 2021 - 06:05 AM - 6451 views

What Is It

Cross-cultural beliefs have long held that music has a healing effect on mind and body. Music can promote relaxation and distract from pain associated with many illnesses. It can also relieve anxiety and distress. Music therapy emerged as a formal discipline in the US in the 1940s, as methods of increased effectiveness became clearer.

Currently, there are close to 8,000 trained therapists in the US alone, with thousands more worldwide. Passive forms of therapy may be used to reduce stress before procedures or ease transition from sedation. More active forms are used for rehabilitation, enrichment, and simple enjoyment. Patients may listen to, play, and even write their own music with guidance from a professionally trained music therapist. Often this process evolves to give meaning and voice to complex emotions that patients may struggle to otherwise articulate. It can also strengthen and enhance communications and support from loved ones. Patient state, physical surroundings, instrument choices, the desire to self-select or create music, and cultural backgrounds are among the considerations that may direct therapy.

A majority of NCI-designated cancer centers now offer music therapy as part of their supportive care programs. In addition, cancer guidelines recommend music therapy for anxiety, stress reduction, depression, and mood disorders. Music therapists also work with other populations, such as specials special needs and mental health patients.

How It Works

Music therapy helps improve social, emotional, and quality of life aspects in patients with cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. It has also shown benefit in hospitalized children, patients undergoing difficult treatment, and those with terminal illnesses by improving symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress, fatigue, and perceived pain. Other studies have shown it can reduce blood pressure in listeners, and help improve coordination, mobility, and endurance in patients with stroke, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. It may also have positive effects on the nervous system and immune function.

There are many mechanisms by which these effects occur. Selecting the right music can induce either calmness or stimulation, and provide meaning and pleasure. It can offer a welcome distraction or shift perception, induce feel-good chemicals in the brain, spark positive associations and memories, or help patients process and communicate difficult emotions. The rhythm of music can help guide and improve movement coordination. Music can also impart a calming environment to reduce the stress of loved ones and caregivers.

Several forms of music therapy are also used in rehabilitation. For example, singing therapy can improve breathing and lung function. In addition, music can improve adherence to exercise regimens because it is more enjoyable, making it an important component in health-challenged populations.

Purported Uses

  • Anxiety
    Several clinical trials have shown that music therapy can help reduce anxiety including distress related to surgery and other procedures. Current cancer guidelines recommend music therapy for anxiety.

  • Depression
    Several studies have shown that music can help reduce depression. Current cancer guidelines recommend music therapy for depression and mood disorders.

  • Fatigue
    A large study showed that music therapy was associated with greater reduction in cancer-related fatigue and increased reporting of positive affect/emotions compared to passive music therapy.

  • Pain
    Several clinical trials have shown that music therapy can help reduce pain or pain perception. However, more studies are needed.

  • Stress
    This use is supported by clinical trials. Current cancer guidelines recommend music therapy for stress reduction.

  • Cancer-related symptoms
    Cancer guidelines and a number of studies support music therapy for cancer patients to reduce anxiety, depression, and mood disturbances.

  • Family and caregiver support
    Music therapy can help reduce stress and enhance communications for loved ones and caregivers.

  • Improving exercise adherence
    Studies show that carefully selected music is integral to improving exercise adherence in health-challenged populations and in rehabilitation regimens.

Is It Safe

Music therapy is safe, but should be provided by a qualified therapist. Because music therapy is noninvasive, free of side effects, and has shown effectiveness, it is a part of standard supportive care in major cancer hospitals and other institutions. It is also recommended in cancer supportive care guidelines.

Who Can Provide this Service

A professional music therapist holds a degree in music therapy from a college or university program approved by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). Graduates may then apply for the national credential of Music Therapist – Board Certified (MT-BC).

Currently, close to 8,000 therapists are board-certified in the US. Therapists may also obtain post-graduate specialty certifications in Hospice and Palliative Music Therapy (HPMT), Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT), and Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy (NRMT). Some states require additional licensure for music therapists who include psychotherapy in their scope of practice. Qualified therapists are listed in the AMTA’s National Music Therapy Registry. International organizations include the World Federation of Music Therapy and the International Society for Music Education.

Where Can I Get Treatment

Many major hospitals offer some form of music therapy for rehabilitation and supportive care. In addition, a majority of NCI-designated cancer centers now offer music therapy as part of their supportive care programs. Therapists are skilled at employing evidence-based techniques for symptom management in clinical, intensive care, and hospice settings.  

The Integrative Medicine Service at MSK offers music therapy and other mind-body modalities in a new online program, Integrative Medicine at Home, to help support the recovery and well-being of cancer patients everywhere.


Source: Memorial Sloan Kettering Center Center


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