Music Therapy

Music Therapy

Music Therapy

For Patients & Caregivers

Music can promote relaxation and distraction from pain associated with many illnesses.

Music therapy emerged as a formal discipline in the United States in the 1940s. Currently, there are over 5,000 trained therapists working throughout the country. Patients listen to or perform music under the guidance of a professionally trained music therapist.

Studies have shown that music reduces anxiety, stress and pain after surgery. Music is thought to reduce blood pressure in listeners. It also improves coordination in stroke and Parkinson’s disease patients. Music helps improve social and emotional aspects and quality of life in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Music therapy is also effective for improving depressive symptoms.

Music has clinically significant benefits for premature infants in intensive care units. It also helps to change behaviors in children with autism and to reduce anxiety and increase comfort in hospitalized children with cancer. Music therapy can reduce mood disturbance in cancer patients undergoing stem cell transplantation, reduce anxiety in patients receiving radiation therapy, and improve quality of life in patients with terminal cancer. Because music therapy is noninvasive and free of side effects, it is being added as part of standard care in major cancer hospitals.

  • Pain
    Several clinical trials have shown that music therapy can help to reduce pain.
  • Stress
    This use is supported by clinical trials.
  • Cancer-related symptoms
    Several studies support music therapy for reduction of many symptoms associated with cancer and its treatments including pain, anxiety and mood disturbances.
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For Healthcare Professionals

Music as therapy has been used since ancient times. It emerged as a formal discipline in the United States in the late 1940s. Currently, there are over 5,000 music therapists working in clinical settings throughout the country. Patients listen to or perform music under the guidance of a professionally trained music therapist. Music can promote relaxation and provide distraction from pain, and has been used to reduce postoperative pain (13) and help alleviate anxiety and stress (1) (2). Conclusions of a systematic review support music therapy in alleviating preoperative anxiety (20).

Music may also help improve social and emotional aspects in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (3) (4) (5) and improved quality of life in patients with dementia (6) and stroke (7). A randomized trial showed the positive effects of group music therapy on improving mild to moderate dementia in elderly individuals (21). Music was also superior to standard care in reducing anxiety among intensive care unit patients receiving acute ventilatory support for respiratory failure (23).

Music therapy may also help alleviate symptoms associated with cancer and its treatments. It reduced mood disturbance (10) and improved coping and social integration (24) in cancer patients undergoing autologous stem cell transplantation, a procedure known to cause significant psychological distress . Other data indicate that music alleviates pain (15) and anxiety in breast cancer patients (14), in those receiving chemotherapy (16) and radiation therapy (11), and improves the quality of life in people with terminal cancer (12). Music also reduces pain and anxiety, and increases comfort in hospitalized children with cancer (9) (17). Women undergoing colposcopy reported reduced anxiety and pain perception after listening to slow-rhythm music (8) (22). Conclusions from systematic reviews, however, question the clinical significance of music therapy for treating pain (18), and also point to the poor methodology in several music therapy trials (19).

Because music therapy is noninvasive and free of side effects, it is integrated into standard care in major cancer hospitals to help relieve pain and physical and psychological discomfort.

  • Cancer-related symptoms
  • Mood disturbance
  • Pain
  • Stress

  1. Brotons M and Marti P. Music therapy with Alzheimer’s patients and their family caregivers: a pilot project. J Music Ther 2003; 40(2):138-150.

  2. Good M, et al. Relaxation and music reduce pain after gynecologic surgery. Pain Manag Nurs 2002;3(2):61-70.

  3. Bulfone T, Quattrin R, Zanotti R, et al. Effectiveness of music therapy for anxiety reduction in women with breast cancer in chemotherapy treatment. Holist Nurs Pract. 2009;23(4):238-42.

  4. Lin MF, Hsieh YJ, Hsu YY, Fetzer S, Hsu MC. A randomised controlled trial of the effect of music therapy and verbal relaxation on chemotherapy-induced anxiety. J Clin Nurs. 2011 Apr;20(7-8):988-99.

  5. Nguyen TN, Nilsson S, Hellström AL, Bengtson A. Music therapy to reduce pain and anxiety in children with cancer undergoing lumbar puncture: a randomized clinical trial. J Pediatr Oncol Nurs. 2010 May-Jun;27(3):146-55.

  6. Cepeda MS, Carr DB, Lau J, Alvarez H. Music for pain relief. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Apr 19;(2):CD004843.

  7. Bradt J, Dileo C, Grocke D, Magill L. Music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in cancer patients. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Aug 10;(8):CD006911.

  8. Bradt J, Dileo C, Shim M. Music interventions for preoperative anxiety. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013 Jun 6;6:CD006908.

  9. Galaal K, Bryant A, Deane KH, Al-Khaduri M, Lopes AD. Interventions for reducing anxiety in women undergoing colposcopy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Dec 7;(12):CD006013.

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Email your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.

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