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The Healing Power of Music

The adage that music soothes the soul has proven to hold true. Over the years, frequently listening to music has been linked to a number of health benefits such as stress reduction. A recent review of 30 studies published in the Cochrane Library found that music therapy contributed to reductions in anxiety and pain and improvements in overall quality of life in cancer survivors.

Joke Bradt, PhD an associate professor of creative arts therapies at Drexel University, and her colleagues, reviewed studies looking at 1,891 cancer patients who underwent different forms of music therapy. In all of the studies, participants frequently listened to music, and in some cases, also played instruments, sang or created rhymes. The control group did not receive any type of music therapy. Cancer patients who had been involved in different music therapies showed improvements in the following areas: anxiety, pain, blood pressure, heart rate and overall quality of life.

Bradt concluded that more extensive research and tests need to be conducted to determine which type of music therapy is most effective. She believes that the therapy programs need to be tailored to individual preferences and skills, as she explains, “It’s not like when you go to a doctor with a headache, and he prescribes a specific type of medicine that will help me with my headache and also help you with your headache.”

While the impact of music therapy in health is a relatively new area of oncology research, the initial results promising. Robert Zatorre, Ph.D., a cognitive neuroscientist at McGill University captures the promise of these studies in explaining, “the cost involved with music is very small compared to other kinds of interventions. How well it works – say, compared to drugs – is another question, but the side effects are very minimal as well. The worst thing that can happen [when] someone doesn’t like music is that they can turn it off.”