Expanding Perspective of Music Therapy for Symptom Management in Cancer Care

Music can help soothe symptoms related to medical procedures or diagnoses, but can it help the deeper issues that come with a serious medical diagnosis? Potvin, Bradt, and Kesslick looked into symptoms management and the underlying issues in their research article, “Expanding Perspective on Music Therapy for Symptom Management in Cancer Care.”

Music therapy is often consulted to manage pain, anxiety, and depression in cancer patients, but the researchers in this study wanted to see how music therapy can address the greater, human experience of a serious medical diagnosis, such as cancer. In this study, the researchers read and re-analyzed interviews from cancer patients receiving music therapy or music medicine. The music therapy sessions lasted 30 to 45 minutes and addresses stress, mood, pain, and psychological support of the cancer patients. In the sessions, patients listened to music, improvised on instruments, or wrote songs with the music therapist. In the music medicine sessions, the cancer patients were provided with an iPod of preferred music and were asked to focus on the music. The music and medicine sessions lasted for 30 to 45 minutes.

The researchers found the following themes in the patient’s’ interview answers: Relaxation, Therapeutic Relationship, and Intrapersonal Relating. The patients found that relaxing to live music often helped them forget the pain and they had a renewed sense of self. Patients also mentioned that a supportive and trusting relationship with the therapist provided empathy and connection that they needed, while also addressing their symptoms. For intrapersonal relating, the patients said that the music therapy sessions provided a mental break and an opportunity to revisit pleasant memories. Perhaps the most profound result was that the patients found that participating in music making was transformative and gave them an opportunity to work through struggles of their diagnosis within the music.

This study is a great example for why music therapy sessions, and a relationship with a music therapist, often shows greater results than other medical music programs. If you are considering why music therapy could be of benefit for yourself or a family member, this may be a great article to read for deeper insight. For more information on music therapy, please peruse this website or visit www.musictherapy.org.


-Jessica L. Fletcher, MM, MT-BC

Potvin, N., Bradt, J., Kesslick, A. (2015). Expanding Perspective of Music Therapy for Symptom Management in Cancer Care. Journal of Music Therapy, 52(1), 135-167.