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What Is Music Therapy?

What Is Music Therapy?
Music therapy is not about learning to sing or play an instrument. In a Music Therapy session, you might:
  • Listen to music
  • Move to music
  • Sing
  • Make music with simple instruments
  • Write and discuss song lyrics
  • Use Guided Imagery with music
Music therapists work alongside other healthcare professionals such as doctors, nurses, speech therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists. They may work with adults and children who have:
  • Symptoms caused by physical illness or mental illness
  • Side effects from cancer and its treatment
  • A terminal illness such as cancer
  • Benefits of Music Therapy for Cancer Patients - Alleviating Anxiety and Stress, Enhancing Mood and Emotional Well-being, Reducing Pain and Discomfort, Boosting Immune System Function, Facilitating Communication and Expression, Promoting Relaxation and Sleep etc.
  • Techniques and Approaches in Music Therapy for Cancer Patients - Active Music Engagement, Guided Imagery and Music, Songwriting and Lyric Analysis, Music-Assisted Relaxation and Meditation, Drumming and Rhythm-Based Therapies etc.

Why do people with cancer use it?

One of the main reasons people with cancer use Music Therapy is because it makes them feel good. Listening to music can be calming and relaxing. Music can be a safe place for people to explore fear, anxiety, anger and the range of emotional responses to living with cancer. Some studies show that music can help children with cancer to cope by encouraging them to cooperate and communicate.

What it involves

You work with your music therapist to plan a programme that suits your needs. You decide together how often you should have the therapy and how long each session will be. Music therapy sessions usually last between 30 to 60 minutes. Your therapist might encourage you to play or listen to music at home between sessions. You might have regular therapy for weeks or months. You may want to see your therapist on your own or take part in group Music Therapy sessions. Your relationship with your music therapist is very important. If you don't feel comfortable with anything your therapist is doing, do talk to them about it.

Research into Music Therapy in cancer care

Music cannot cure, treat or prevent any type of disease, including cancer. However some research shows that Music Therapy can help people with cancer reduce their Anxiety. It can also help to improve quality of life and reduce symptoms and side effects. We don't yet know about all the ways music can affect the body. But we do know that when music is used in the right way for each person, it can help them to feel better. To learn more about its full benefits, we need larger trials across a wider range of cancers.

For people having chemotherapy

In 2013, a small Turkish study of 40 people looked at using Music Therapy and guided visual imagery to help with Anxiety and sickness due to Chemotherapy. The researchers stated that the music and visual imagery had positive effects. The participants had greatly reduced Anxiety levels. They also had less frequent and less severe Nausea and Vomiting.

For people having radiotherapy

In 2017 a study looked at whether Music Therapy could help reduce Anxiety in patients having Radiotherapy simulation. Seventy-eight patients took part who had either Head and Neck Cancer or Breast Cancer. The researchers found that the Music Therapy did help reduce their Anxiety during the Radiotherapy simulation.

Physical and psychological help for people with cancer

There was a review in 2011 of all the studies that used Music Therapy to help people with cancer physically and psychologically. There were 30 trials with a total of 1,891 people. The results suggested that Music Therapy can lower levels of anxiety, but did not seem to reduce Depression. Music Therapy could also slightly lower Pain levels, heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure. There was no strong evidence that Music Therapy could reduce tiredness (fatigue) or help with physical symptoms.

Music therapy at the end of life

In 2010 researchers reviewed all the studies that looked at Music Therapy for people at the end of life. There were 5 studies with a total of 175 people. The results seemed to show that Music Therapy could help to improve the quality of life for people in the last months or years of life. But the studies were small so it's difficult to be sure. The Music Therapy did not seem to help with Pain or Anxiety. But only 2 of the studies looked at these factors. The authors said that more research was needed.

Music for cancer pain

In 2016 there was a review of all the studies that used music to try to reduce pain, including in people with cancer. It showed that music may be an effective way of relieving pain in some people.

Side effects

Music therapy is generally very safe and has no side effects. But very loud music or particular types of music might irritate some people or make them feel uncomfortable. The music might trigger strong reactions or evoke memories which could range from pleasant to painful. A music therapist is trained to support patients during these processes.
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