Music Therapy Heals the Soul and Body

You’re driving down the road when suddenly a perfect song comes on the radio — a song that captures the true essence of your emotions.

Heartbreak, happiness, hopefulness — whatever you’re feeling — that song is exactly what you need to hear. You jack up the volume, join in on the chorus and even pound out the drum beat on your steering wheel. And though the guy in the next lane may give you a funny look, it’s OK. Musical interludes like this could be just what the doctor ordered.

For years, researchers have studied how music can improve your well-being. Studies in the Journal of Music Therapy have shown that singing can boost your immune system, reduce stress levels and help patients cope with chronic pain.

According to a study published this week in Cancer, the journal of the American Cancer Society, music therapy programs can even help cancer patients gain essential “psychosocial support” that helps them cope with the stresses of their illness.

The study involved 113 adolescents and young adults ages 11 to 24 who were undergoing cancer-fighting stem cell transplants at 11 children’s oncology centers, including Riley Hospital for Children and Indiana University Hospital, both in Indianapolis.

Working with board-certified music therapists, the patients wrote song lyrics and some produced music videos about their feelings related to their diagnosis and treatment. The group that made music videos reported feeling more resilient and better able to cope with their treatment. Even 100 days after treatment, these patients said communication within their families had improved, and they felt more connected with friends.

Music therapy is often used during cancer treatment to reduce pain, anxiety and nausea caused by chemotherapy. It also provides an overall sense of well-being, and has been found to lower heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate, and reduce depression and sleeplessness, according to the American Cancer Society.

Singing away the stresses of the day isn’t anything new. Old spirituals such as “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” come to mind, but so do more hopeful, upbeat songs, such as “Put On a Happy Face” and “Over the Rainbow.” American legend Johnny Cash often told how music helped him survive a lifetime of personal struggles and what he called “the black dog” of depression.

While there are no claims that music therapy can cure disease, medical experts believe that it can reduce some symptoms, aid healing, improve physical movement and enrich quality of life.

–Mickey Gramig