Music Therapy

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What is music therapy?

Music therapy is the use of live or recorded music to help provide distraction from symptoms and side effects and to promote relaxation. Using music in a therapeutic way can also ease communication for people who don't always feel comfortable expressing feelings.

Studies have shown that music therapy can help to:

  • increase feelings of well-being
  • reduce anxiety
  • reduce physical symptoms such as pain and nausea

What to expect in a typical music therapy session

A music therapy session can happen in a variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, cancer centers, and in a person's home. No musical ability is required in order to experience a benefit.

A music therapist will ask questions about your unique situation and tailor the therapy to your emotional and physical needs. Sessions might involve:

  • playing music
  • listening to music
  • performing movements to music
  • writing songs
  • discussing what lyrics mean to you

Music therapy practitioner requirements

In the United States, a music therapist holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy from a college or university program approved by the American Music Therapy Association.

After earning a bachelor's degree, a music therapist can then take the exam required to practice professionally. The Certification Board for Music Therapists gives this exam. When a music therapist passes the exam, he or she receives the credential of "MT-BC" (music therapist — board certified).

More advanced levels of music therapy include:

  • Registered Music Therapist (RMT)
  • Certified Music Therapist (CMT)
  • Advanced Certified Music Therapist (ACMT)

Visiting the links above can help you find a qualified music therapist in your area. You can also ask your health care team for recommendations.

Research on music therapy in people with cancer

There have been studies showing that music therapy can help people who've had cancer to feel less anxious, more relaxed, and to feel less pain.

In a very preliminary 2001 British study of music therapy in 29 cancer patients, participants felt a higher sense of well-being and less tension during one session. Researchers measured improvements in immune function and decreases in the amount of the stress hormone cortisol.

A 2001 study of 20 patients awaiting breast biopsy showed that, when some of the patients had a 20-minute music therapy session while in the pre-operative waiting room, their anxiety and respiratory rates were much lower than those of the patients who did not have a music therapy session.

In a small 1991 study in Utah, 15 cancer patients taking pain-relieving medicines were assigned to receive different kinds of music therapy for 6 days to find out if music could help to further reduce their pain. Results showed pain decreases in 47% of the patients.

Important things to consider before trying music therapy

Music therapy is thought to be a generally safe practice. However, music therapy given by an untrained person may not be effective, and it can even be a source of increased stress and anxiety. If you're interested in music therapy, make sure your therapist:

  • is board-certified
  • has experience with people who have had cancer

Back to Types of Complementary Techniques

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