Other common name(s): none
Scientific/medical name(s): none
Music therapy is the use of music by health care professionals to promote healing and enhance quality of life for their patients. Music therapy may be used to encourage emotional expression, promote social interaction, relieve symptoms, and for other purposes. Music therapists may use active or passive methods with patients, depending on the individual patient’s needs and abilities.
There is some evidence that, when used with conventional treatment, music therapy can help to reduce pain and relieve chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. It may also relieve stress and provide an overall sense of well-being. Some studies have found that music therapy can lower heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.
How is it promoted for use?
Music therapists work with a variety of physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms. Music therapy is often used in cancer treatment to help reduce pain, anxiety, and nausea caused by chemotherapy. Some people believe music therapy may be a beneficial addition to the health care of children with cancer by promoting social interaction and cooperation.
There is evidence that music therapy can reduce high blood pressure, rapid heart beat, depression, and sleeplessness. There are no claims music therapy can cure cancer or other diseases, but medical experts do believe it can reduce some symptoms, aid healing, improve physical movement, and enrich a patient’s quality of life.
What does it involve?
Music therapists design music sessions for individuals and groups based on their needs and tastes. Some aspects of music therapy include making music, listening to music, writing songs, and talking about lyrics. Music therapy may also involve imagery and learning through music. It can be done in different places such as hospitals, cancer centers, hospices, at home, or anywhere people can benefit from its calming or stimulating effects. The patient does not need to have any musical ability to benefit from music therapy.
A related practice called music thanatology is sometimes used at the end of a patient’s life to ease the person’s passing. It is practiced in homes, hospices, or nursing homes.
What is the history behind it?
Music has been used in medicine for thousands of years. Ancient Greek philosophers believed that music could heal both the body and the soul. Native Americans have used singing and chanting as part of their healing rituals for millennia. The more formal approach to music therapy began in World War II, when U.S. Veterans Administration hospitals began to use music to help treat soldiers suffering from shell shock. In 1944, Michigan State University established the first music therapy degree program in the world.
Today, more than seventy colleges and universities have degree programs that are approved by the American Music Therapy Association. Music therapists must have at least a bachelor’s degree, 1,200 hours of clinical training, and one or more internships before they can be certified. There are thousands of professional music therapists working in health care settings in the United States today. They serve as part of cancer-management teams in many hospitals and cancer centers, helping to plan and evaluate treatment. Some music therapy services are covered by health insurance.
What is the evidence?
Scientific studies have shown the value of music therapy on the body, mind, and spirit of children and adults. Researchers have found that music therapy, when used with anti-nausea drugs for patients receiving high-dose chemotherapy, can help ease nausea and vomiting. A number of clinical trials have shown the benefit of music therapy for short-term pain, including pain from cancer. Some studies have suggested that music may help decrease the overall intensity of the patient’s experience of pain when used with pain-relieving drugs. Music therapy can also result in a decreased need for pain medicine in some patients, although studies on this topic have shown mixed results.
In hospice patients, one study found that music therapy improved comfort, relaxation, and pain control. Another study found that quality of life improved in cancer patients who received music therapy, even as it declined in those who did not. No differences were seen in survival between the 2 groups.
A more recent clinical trial looked at the effects of music during the course of several weeks of radiation treatments. The researchers found that while emotional distress (such as anxiety) seemed to be helped at the beginning of treatment, the patients reported that this effect gradually decreased. Music did not appear to help such symptoms as pain, fatigue, and depression over the long term.
Other clinical trials have revealed a reduction in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, insomnia, depression, and anxiety with music therapy. No one knows all the ways music can benefit the body, but studies have shown that music can affect brain waves, brain circulation, and stress hormones. These effects are usually seen during and shortly after the music therapy.
Studies have shown that students who take music lessons have improved IQ levels, and show improvement in nonmusical abilities as well. Other studies have shown that listening to music composed by Mozart produces a short-term improvement in tasks that use spatial abilities. Studies of brain circulation have shown that people listening to Mozart have more activity in certain areas of the brain. This has been called the “Mozart effect.” Although the reasons for this effect are not completely clear, this kind of information supports the idea that music can be used in many helpful ways.
Some clinical trials that involve listening to music have shown no benefit on anxiety during surgical procedures, although one study that allowed patients to choose their own music showed improved anxiety levels. One recent review of studies looked at the effect of music on all types of pain and found a wide variation in its effects. The study authors observed that the best effects were on short-term pain after surgery. It is important to note that not all studies of music use music therapists, who assess the patient’s needs, circumstances, and preferences, as well as the different effects of certain types of music. This may account for some differences in clinical trial results.
Are there any possible problems or complications?
In general, music therapy done under the care of a professionally trained therapist has a helpful effect and is considered safe when used with standard treatment. Musical intervention by untrained people can be ineffective or can even cause increased stress and discomfort. Relying on this type of treatment alone and avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.
More information from your American Cancer Society
The following information on complementary and alternative therapies may also be helpful to you. These materials may be found on our Web site (www.cancer.org) or ordered from our toll-free number (1-800-ACS-2345).
The ACS Operational Statement on Complementary and Alternative Methods of Cancer Management
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What is music therapy? American Music Therapy Association Web site. Accessed at www.musictherapy.org/ on May 23, 2008.
Note: This information may not cover all possible claims, uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with your doctor, who is familiar with your medical situation.
Last Revised: 11/01/2008