Friday, December 7, 2012

Music as Medicine


Lane, D. (2011) Music as Medicine, Music and the Brain. [podcast]. Available at:

Dr. Deforia Lane is the Director of Music Therapy at the University Hospitals of Cleveland. She grew up surrounded with classical music because her mother was a pianist and her father sang. From an early age, she saw in music the ability to transform people, specifically in the church setting. She got into the Curtis Institute of Music where she studied voice and performed in operas. She wanted to be a performer at first, but switched to music therapy after taking an introductory course in music therapy. She wanted to combine the art and the science of music. She now uses music therapy in the treatment of cancer patients. She herself experienced cancer twice so she tries to help others going through similar experiences.

Pain management in cancer patients
Pain can be a major for people suffering a variety of illnesses, but it can be particularly difficult for cancer patients. There can be fear of needles in the process of chemotherapy, bone marrow aspirations and emesis. Music has an effect on blood pressure, heart rate and respiration. It can lower muscle tension and anxiety. Music therapy can help patients relax so that the needle may be inserted without constricting of the veins. The therapy seems to be particularly useful when playing music of the patient’s choice. The live aspect allows for the music to be altered as needed. In a surgical setting, it was found that patients who had access to their preferred music used 43% less anesthesia than those without the access.

Depression in cancer patients
A music therapist can help the patient put his/her feelings on paper and together they make a song to express what the patient is thinking using a variety of instruments. The aim is to increase self-worth and self-esteem.

Music therapy as preventative medicine
Currently music therapists bill on a case by case basis. She insists that more research is needed to show the measurable differences that music therapy produces so that the billing process changes. For example, sometimes patients are discharged sooner, sometimes they lose less medication, sometimes they become more cooperative and they may experience higher spirits and so get well sooner. She believes that collaboration between music therapists and physicians is very important. She conducted a research and found that a single music therapy session can have positive impact on the immune system, measured by the level of an antibody naturally in our saliva.

Toddler Rock
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wanted contacted her because they wanted her help them start a program to help at risk preschoolers. She and the other music therapists focused on literacy and tests have shown a great improvement in literacy skills.

It is disappointing to hear that music therapy is waiting to be validated in the health care community. Just like in other areas of study, extensive quantitative research will be needed in order to justify the need for music therapists. Then it will probably take a while to convince the general public of its validity and professionalism. It surprises me that it is going to take so much research to convince people. After all, almost everyone has experienced the benefits of listening to music so it should not be that difficult to believe that music therapy can help relax cancer patients or elevate their spirits. I suppose the general public, including me before taking this course, is not aware of exactly what it is that music therapists do. They may think that a music performer is the same as a music therapist. It is encouraging to see that music therapists are reaching out and conducting scientific research themselves and also collaborating with doctors to make advancement in the field. The goal of quantitative research however should not be to justify the work but rather to provide useful information as to how the music therapy is working and to help improve the treatments.

1 comment:

Vivek Sharma said...

It sounds to me like music was used as a kind of distraction when inserting needles into the arms of cancer patients. This makes me wonder if treatments of phobias can be done using music therapy. There is a saying that goes, "neurons that fire together, wire together." It might be possible that music can create novel connections that negatively reinforce anxiety towards particular stimuli.

The fact that music actually decreased the need for anesthetics in cancer patients is interesting. Here too, the control over attentional pathways that music seems to facilitate may decrease the perception of pain. The same theory could apply to depression. Arguably, music can make a person feel more depressed if the music is embedded with negative emotional associations. Yet, musics ability to allow the attention to transcend the here now may also be indicated as a way that music moves focus away from negative stimulation.

One of the primary reasons music still needs to be validated in modern medicine is because the technologies that can quantify the results of music therapy are new. As scientific methodologies improve and case studies are collected, I'm sure music therapy will become integrated into public health.