Pain Management

How Does Music Therapy Make a Difference?

Music therapy has been shown to be an effective and valid treatment option for patients experiencing pain related to a variety of diagnoses. Music therapy interventions can focus on pain management for physical rehabilitation, cardiac conditions, medical and surgical procedures, obstetrics, oncology treatment, and burn debridement, among others. Music is a form of sensory stimulation, which provokes responses due to the familiarity, predictability, and feelings of security associated with it. Research results and clinical experiences attest to the viability of music therapy even in those patients resistant to other treatment approaches.

What Do Music Therapists Do?

Music therapy utilized in the treatment and management of pain complies with the expectations and requirements inherent in the medical model of treatment. Music therapy programs are based on individual assessment and collection of extensive data for the development of complex patient histories and client-centered treatment plans. Patient objectives are specific and relevant to medical diagnosis, course of treatment, and discharge timeline.

Once goals and objectives are established, music therapists use music activities, both instrumental and vocal, designed to facilitate changes that are non-musical in nature.  Through a planned and systematic use of music and music strategies, the music therapist provides opportunities for:

•    Anxiety and stress reduction

•    Non-pharmacological management of pain and discomfort

•    Positive changes in mood and emotional states

•    Active and positive patient participation in treatment

•    Decreased length of stay

Functioning as members of an interdisciplinary team, music therapists also evaluate the patients during the course of treatment, implement changes that are indicated by the patient’s response, and document benefits in medical, not musical, terms.

How Does Music Therapy Help Patients?

Music therapy can help to relieve pain and reduce stress and anxiety for the patient, resulting in physiological changes, including:

Music therapy has been shown to have a significant effect on a patient’s perceived effectiveness of treatment, self-reports of pain reduction, relaxation, respiration rate, behaviorally observed and self- reported anxiety levels, and patient choice of anesthesia and amount of analgesic medication.

Music Therapy Protocol for Pain Management

“[This protocol]... is based on a cognitive behavioral model of therapy, which posits that new thoughts, feelings and body states may be conditioned to replace dysfunctional patterns. Specifically, a relaxed body and pleasant visual images may replace tension and worry when they are conditioned as a response to familiar, calming music. The conditioning process takes place when listening to this music is paired with deep relaxation through repeated practice. Over time, the music alone cues the response...

The music therapy protocol is designed to perform several functions:

    1.     To direct attention away from pain or anxiety, distracting the listener with comforting music.

    2.     To provide a musical stimulus for rhythmic breathing.

    3.     To offer a rhythmic structure for systematic release of body tension.

    4.     To cue positive visual imagery.

    5.     To condition a deep relaxation response.

    6.     To change mood.

    7.     To focus on positive thoughts and feelings and to celebrate life.”

- Professor Suzanne Hanser, EdD, MT-BC, Berklee College of Music

--Text courtesy of the American Music Therapy Association

For specific articles on Music Therapy in Pain Management, see Resources and Bibliography.