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How Music Therapy Can Help Reduce Pain

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is a type of therapy that uses music to help patients achieve their therapeutic goals. It is a clinical discipline that uses evidence-based music interventions within a therapeutic relationship. Board-certified music therapists (MT-BC) provide support to patients in various areas such as psychological/emotional, physical, cognitive, spiritual, and/or social domains.

Music therapy is a powerful and non-invasive way to support patients. Research results and clinical experiences have proven its effectiveness. It can be used to reduce pain, anxiety, and depression. Music therapists work in various areas such as medical hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, day treatment centers, substance abuse programs, community mental health centers, public schools, special education, rehab centers, nursing homes, senior centers, hospice programs, prisons, wellness centers, and private practice.

People who may benefit from music therapy are children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly with mental health needs, developmental and learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease and other aging-related conditions, substance abuse problems, brain injuries, physical disabilities, and acute and chronic pain.

Where can I find Music Therapy?

Music therapy is available in clinics and hospitals across the United States with a physician/provider order, similar to physical therapy and occupational therapy. It is available for patients of all ages, from birth to end of life.

Infants in the NICU receive specialized protocols for developmental needs. Cancer patients participate in music therapy to manage anxiety and cope with illness and treatment. Music therapy provides comfort and respite for end-of-life patients and their families.

Music therapy can be ordered by healthcare providers for pain management, stress and anxiety, to improve mood and enhance coping skills for improved clinical outcomes, to increase relaxation, for rehab goals, and for self-expression. It can also provide support for families and caregivers who share the difficulty of hospitalization.

Is Music Therapy Effective for Pain Relief?

Music therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment for people of all ages and conditions. Research suggests that music can reduce anxiety, decrease the perception of pain and improve quality of life. It can provide motivation for movement and participation in treatment. Music therapy can help patients with confusion, delirium and/or memory problems by accessing all areas of the brain.

Music therapy sessions are individualized and depend on the patient’s needs. Live music is primarily used to offer patients their preferred music genre. Physical pain and emotional suffering are also individualized, and music therapy can improve pain management by directing attention away from the pain, supporting breathing and relaxation, and improving sleep. In addition to live music, music therapists and patients may write songs, analyze lyrics, play instruments or sing.

Music therapy has helped patients in various ways. For instance, in a session, a patient was in excruciating pain. After determining preferences, the music therapist played music that rhythmically matched the patient’s movements and engaged the patient’s attention. As the music proceeded, the patient listened more intently to the lyrics, singing along softly. The therapist facilitated the patient’s choice of music, but gradually slowed the tempo and rhythm to encourage relaxation. The patient lay back in the bed and closed their eyes and were shortly asleep, breathing regularly and calmly. In later sessions, the music therapist instructed the patient on music-assisted relaxation techniques so the patient could utilize them when needed, giving control and reducing the need for medication.

Music therapists frequently assist with needle sticks, IV insertions and other painful procedures for adults and children.