Music Therapy

Music has long been considered a healing art. Ancient civilizations around the world used music as medicine, offering songs and chants to heal both the body and the soul. In the United States, Native Americans made music an important part of their healing rituals as well and it isn’t unusual for spiritual healers from a number of other cultures to still use music to ease pain and other symptoms associated with a variety of diseases and disorders.

American doctors have also long recognized the advantages of music therapy for patients with all sorts of medical issues, including cancers like mesothelioma. While no one has ever claimed that music cures cancer, studies have shown that listening to music and participating in other music-related activities can improve a patient’s quality of life, if even for a short time. For patient’s battling terminal disease like mesothelioma cancer, this can be extremely valuable.

How Does it Work?

Music therapy can be performed in a variety of different settings and in various ways. It may be administered by a degreed professional who has been certified in music therapy, by another medical professional, or may even be self-administered at home. Certified music therapists, however, have the most knowledge of this form of alternative treatment and have been trained to work specifically in healthcare settings. Some may be part of the multi-disciplinary teams of professionals often assigned to cancer patients, especially at large cancer facilities where alternative and complementary therapies are part of the care plan.

Many patients may mistakenly believe that they need to be “musical” to take advantage of this type of therapy when, in fact, no musical experience is necessary. While many experienced musicians do find making music to be therapeutic, music therapy as a science requires only an open mind and a willingness to try something that may help relieve the symptoms of cancer difficult side-effects associated with mesothelioma treatment.

Many forms of music therapy simply involve listening to the music of the patient’s choice, but may also include playing simple instruments, singing, writing songs that express one’s feelings, or discussing lyrics of existing songs. Hence, therapy of this type can be active or passive, allowing it to be used even with patients who are deemed “too sick” to participate.

Advantages of Music Therapy

A number of studies have been conducted involving the use of music therapy and most have determined that this type of alternative treatment does indeed have its advantages. A 2003 study conducted in the United Kingdom involved 42 patients with leukemia, lymphoma, and solid tumors who were candidates for bone marrow transplants. Half the patients participated in music therapy after their transplants while others received traditional care. Those receiving music therapy reported a marked decrease in pain and nausea during and after the sessions. In addition, the new bone marrow was slower to develop in patients who did not participate in music therapy.

Additionally, an Australian study found that music therapy was an important part of palliative care for terminally ill patients, demonstrating that participation in this type of therapy – even in a passive way – helped reduce both chronic and acute pain.

The American Music Therapy Association also encourages the use of music therapy to “elevate patients' mood and counteract depression; promote movement for physical rehabilitation; calm or sedate, induce sleep; counteract apprehension or fear; and lessen muscle tension for the purpose of relaxation, including the autonomic nervous system.” It has also been demonstrated to reduce high blood pressure, and patients who take advantage of music therapy report an overall feeling of well-being after a session and often report a reduced need for pain medication or anti-depressants.

What You Should Know

Listening to music or participating in a musical activity is safe for everyone and can be quite advantageous. However, no one should ever be forced to participate in music therapy and some will find it to be ineffective. Furthermore, this is an alternative/complementary therapy meant to be used in tandem with traditional treatments and should not be wholly relied upon for pain or stress relief.


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