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What is Music Therapy and How Can It Help Cancer Patients?

September 02, 2014

Ever heard of music therapy? These two words paired together may seem odd, but it’s actually something we use in our everyday lives.

Picture this scenario: You had a stressful day. Your boss keeps piling on the work when you’re already overwhelmed. There are too many customers to speak with and not enough time. Deadlines are quickly approaching and it’s crunch time. At the end of the day, you finally leave work, walk to your car, start it up, blast the AC and head home, all the while knowing that the stress will just continue tomorrow.

Then, just as you’re riding along thinking about work, THAT song comes on the radio. It’s like a miracle from the “radio gods” to play just the right song to help relieve your stress and make the evening rush hour bearable. You arrive home and feel more motivated, energized and ready to enjoy your evening, instead of suffering all night and dreading the next day.

This is a basic example of music as therapy. Now, imagine having a healthcare professional with specific training in human behavior and psychology harness the power of music to help you cope with a disease or condition. This is a music therapist. This is what music therapy is all about.

What is Music Therapy?

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is the specific use of music to accomplish therapeutic goals within a clinical setting.

Or in simpler terms: Music therapy involves using specific types of music exercises to help people address non-musical goals. So, just like when you jam out to the radio in your car to help relieve stress, we use music to help patients find relief, comfort, relaxation and healing as they fight to overcome their battle with cancer.

Using music as a tool to help heal the human body and mind has been utilized for centuries. In biblical times, David played his harp to help alleviate the king’s melancholy and sadness. In more recent times, during the past two World Wars, musicians were found in hospitals and other medical facilities to help soldiers overcome their physical and emotional traumas.

In 1944, the first academic music therapy program was officially created at Michigan State University. Today, there are more than 70 universities offering music therapy education to thousands of students across the country. And at many of these universities, research is being conducted to examine the effects of music therapy on a variety of populations, from those afflicted with cancer to others faced with mental illness.

What Does Music Therapy Look Like?

Music therapists practice in a variety of settings, from home healthcare to private practices. In many cases, music therapy services are now being offered directly within hospitals to help patients cope with numerous side effects and conditions.

Some common reasons for music therapy include pain, relaxation, emotional support, self-expression and coping skills. When music therapists work with a patient, they will choose pre-determined musical exercises that are tailored to each patient’s specific needs. Some examples of musical exercises include music-assisted muscle relaxation, live music-listening, active music-making and lyric analysis.

Does Music Therapy Really Work?

Extensive research has been conducted to examine the effects of music therapy. In one study, researchers looked at the effects of music therapy on stress levels of patients undergoing surgery. The study found that patients preferred active music-listening before and during surgery. The results of this study showed a significant drop in stress levels in the group that received the music therapy. Ultimately, this shows that music therapy can be effective in lowering a patient’s level of stress.

Another study looked at breast cancer patients and how music therapy affected their level of depression and length of hospital stay. The patients were split into two groups—one receiving music therapy plus standard medical care and the other receiving just standard medical care. The results of this study showed a significant difference in levels of depression for the group that received the music therapy. The group that received the music therapy also had a much shorter stay in the hospital following their procedure.

A cancer diagnosis and treatment can have serious psychological effects on patients, including depression. This study showed that music therapy can help improve mood, address depression and contribute to a shorter hospital stay.

How Does Music Therapy Fit Into the UF Health Cancer Center – Orlando Health?

Thanks to a generous donation from a local philanthropist, the UF Health Cancer Center – Orlando Health is now able to start a music therapy program for our patients. We are very excited to offer this program to our patients and support them in their battle against cancer.

For more information about our music therapy program, please call 321.841.5056. Or, if you’d like to learn more about the benefits of music therapy, visit the American Music Therapy Association website.