Music therapy

Music therapy is the use of music as a way to help people express and cope with difficult feelings. It can encourage contact and communication with other people and help ease some physical symptoms.

During music therapy, you listen to music or use musical instruments under the guidance of a music therapist. Other types of music therapy include singing and writing songs. Music therapy may be used along with other therapies, such as art therapy.

You don’t need to have any musical ability or experience to benefit from music therapy. It is thought that our brain and body respond naturally to sound, including the rhythm and beat of music.

Music therapy as a complementary therapy

There is no evidence at this time that music therapy can treat cancer itself. As with all types of psychological therapy, some people may find music therapy helpful, while others may not.

Some studies suggest that music therapy can help relieve nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy when it is used along with antinausea medicines. It may also help reduce pain and discomfort, but not all studies have shown this effect.

There is evidence that music therapy can help people relax and can reduce stress and anxiety. Other studies suggest that it may improve quality of life for people living with cancer.

Side effects and risks of music therapy

Talk to your healthcare team if you are thinking about trying music therapy. Music therapy is thought to be safe when it’s done by an accredited music therapist, or MTA.

Music therapy can be a useful complementary therapy that helps people with cancer deal with their emotions. Even though uncomfortable feelings may be stirred up at times, this is part of the healing process. MTAs are trained to help you with the emotions that you may experience during the therapy.

Finding a therapist

It is important that music therapy is offered by an accredited music therapist. You can find an MTA through the Canadian Association for Music Therapy. Some cancer treatment centres offer music therapy as part of their supportive care programs.

Expert review and references

  • Bradt J, Dileo C, Grocke D, et al . Music interventions for improving psychological and physical outcomes in cancer patients. The Cochrane Collaboration. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Wiley; 2011:
  • Cepeda MS, Carr DB, Lau J, Alvarez H . Music for pain relief (Review). The Cochrane Collaboration. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. John Wiley & Sons; 2013:
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  • Karagozoglu S, Tekyasar F & Yilmaz FA . Effects of music therapy and guided visual imagery on chemotherapy-induced anxiety and nausea–vomiting. Journal of Clinical Nursing. Wiley;
  • Luzzatto PM, Magill L . Art therapy and music therapy. Holland JC, Breitbart WS, Jacobsen PB, Lederberg MS, Loscalzo MJ, McCorkle R (eds.). Psycho-Oncology. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press; 2010: 57: 422-428.
  • Nightingale CL, Rodriguez C, Carnaby G . The impact of music interventions on anxiety for adult cancer patients: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Integrative Cancer Therapies. Sage Publications; 2013.
  • O'Callaghan C, Sproston M, Wilkinson K, et al . Effect of self-selected music on adults’ anxiety and subjective experiences during initial radiotherapy treatment:A randomised controlled trial and qualitative research. Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Oncology. Wiley; 2012.
  • Puetz TW, Morly CA, Herring P . Effects of creative arts therapies on psychological symptoms and quality of life in patients with cancer. JAMA Internal Medicine. Chicago, IL: American Medical Association; 2013.
  • Ulbricht C, Cohen L, Lee R . Complementary, alternative, and integrative therapies in cancer care. Devita, V. T., Jr., Lawrence, T. S., & Rosenberg, S. A. Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Willams, Wilkins; 2011: 181.
  • Zhang JM, Wang P, Yao JX, et al . Music interventions for psychological and physical outcomes in cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Supportive Care in Cancer. Springer; 2012.