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The comforting power of music

Palliative care patients benefit from music therapy
May 16, 2011
By Sylvain-Jacques Desjardins

Source: Concordia Journal

Sandi Curtis (playing drum at left), a professor in the Department of Creative Arts Therapies, studies how music therapy improves lives. | Photo courtesy of Sandi Curtis
Sandi Curtis (playing drum at left), a professor in the Department of Creative Arts Therapies, studies how music therapy improves lives. | Photo courtesy of Sandi Curtis

As people face a terminal illness and are confined to a hospital or hospice bed, music can contribute to improving their quality of life. North American health-care professionals have increasingly recognized the benefits of music therapy in palliative care, since end-of-life treatment is designed to meet the psychosocial, physical and spiritual needs of patients.

Sandi Curtis, a music therapy professor in the Concordia Department of Creative Arts Therapies, has published a new study on the topic in the journal Music and Medicine.

“Our study showed how music therapy was effective in enhancing pain relief, comfort, relaxation, mood, confidence, resilience, life quality and well-being in patients,” she explains, noting her project has since been reprised in two Australian pediatric wards.

Her findings are based on a unique collaboration between university music therapy students, musicians from a professional symphony orchestra and a hospital palliative care ward. “This project combined the talents and interests of violinists, violists and cellists with those of advanced student music therapists,” she adds.

“Student music therapists had an invaluable opportunity to make music with professional-calibre musicians,” says Curtis, who is vice-president of the American Music Therapy Association. “Symphony musicians had an opportunity to experience the transformative powers of music in a non-performance setting, and palliative care patients had access to music therapy services.”

As part of the three-year study, Curtis divided undergraduates and musicians into pairs supervised by an accredited music therapist. The 371 participating palliative care patients were men and women between the ages of 18 and 101. All patients had a terminal illness, most with a cancer diagnosis.

Participants were seen for a single music therapy session, which lasted from 15 to 60 minutes. Interventions were designed to address four areas — pain relief, relaxation, mood and quality of life.

Three palliative care patients were so comforted by the experience that their families requested music therapy teams return to play soft music as they died. “On two other occasions, because of the strong relationship established in prior music therapy sessions, the music therapy team was asked to perform at the patients’ funerals,” Curtis notes.

Curtis is currently studying how music therapy can help women and children who are survivors of violence.

Concordia is the only university in Canada to offer an MA in Creative Arts Therapies, Music Therapy Option. The Department of Creative Arts also offers a Graduate Certificate in Music Therapy for students without previous music therapy training.

The Department of Creative Arts Therapies will host two major conferences in Montreal in May 2012: Avant-Garde, the Canadian Association for Music Therapy’s 38th Conference, and the International Conference on Gender, Health and Creative Arts Therapies.

Related links:
•    Cited research
•    Concordia Department of Creative Arts Therapies
•    Canadian Association for Music Therapy

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