A new study has found that a form of music therapy, which involves writing song lyrics and producing videos, is beneficial in helping young cancer patients develop coping skills.

Being diagnosed with and undergoing treatment for cancer can be a very traumatic experience, especially for young people. But fighting to maintain a positive outlook and having strong family and social relationships is known to have a beneficial effect on treatment.

So it is important that distressed adolescents and young adults are able to access support that can promote coping strategies and enhance social interactions while undergoing cancer treatment.

The type of music therapy examined in this study – called Therapeutic Music Video – is designed to help patients reflect on their experiences.

The patients are encouraged to identify what is important to them – whether that be their family, their religion or the relationships they have with friends and the medical professionals treating them.

This reflection occurs through a series of phases in the project, during which patients will make sound and video recordings, and storyboard ideas. The patients are also able to involve their health care providers, friends and family in each step of the process.

At the end of the therapy, the videos made by the patients are shared through video premieres. The therapists think this allows other people – such as their parents and health care providers – to get a better understanding of how the patient feels about their treatments and illness, and also how they feel about the future.

The study – which is published in the American Cancer Society’s journal, Cancer – looked at 113 patients undergoing stem cell transplant treatments for cancer, who were aged between 11 and 24. The patients were randomized into either the Therapeutic Music Video group, or a control group that received audiobooks.

A child playing a recorderShare on Pinterest
Young people who completed the music therapy program coped significantly better during their cancer treatment than patients in a control group.

The researchers found that the young people who had completed the Therapeutic Music Video course were reporting significantly better results for coping. The study also evaluated family environment 100 days after treatment and found that the music therapy group was reporting significantly better results for social interaction.

From the results, the researchers identified several protective factors that promote resilience in young people undergoing cancer treatment. These included spiritual beliefs and practices, a positive and adaptable family environment, and feeling supported by peers and health care providers.

Dr. Joan E. Haase, one of the authors of the study, says that these protective factors influence how young people “cope, gain hope and find meaning in the midst of their cancer journey.”

“Adolescents and young adults who are resilient have the ability to rise above their illness, gain a sense of mastery and confidence in how they have dealt with their cancer, and demonstrate a desire to reach out and help others,” she adds.

As cancer therapies – such as the stem cell transplants that the patients in the study were undergoing – are high-risk, high-intensive cancer treatments, arming young people with positive coping strategies is vital.

Co-author Dr. Sheri L. Robb hopes that the results of this and other similar studies will improve patient access to music therapy programs:

One of the challenges in health care today is making sure that research findings from studies such as ours are used to inform healthcare practices and service delivery.

One of our team’s next steps is to disseminate findings, train professional music therapists on this intervention, and then conduct an implementation study to examine how the intervention may change as it moves into the standard care setting and whether, in the presence of these changes, patient benefits are maintained.”

Music therapy has also been examined in recent years as an anxiety-reducing treatment for patients on ventilators and as a post-surgery recovery aid.

Written by David McNamee