Music Therapists to the rescue

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In this interview, Karen Popkin speaks on the role music therapists play in health care. A Masters in Music Therapy holder, she is the Programme Coordinator of Creative Arts at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre’s Integrative Medicine Service.

What is music therapy?

Music therapy is a mental health profession in which personalised music-based interventions address physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual, and social needs.

What does a music therapist do?

A board-certified music therapist (MT-BC) uses sound and music to promote healing and improve quality of life. Music therapists work with people of all ages. The settings vary, including hospitals, schools, and mental health communities.

We learn about our clients’ strengths, preferences, and needs before creating a treatment plan. Each music therapy session is unique. However, it often entails some combination of creating, singing, moving to, or listening to music.

We may act as guides, co-creators, and witnesses to the music people living with cancer choose and express. In addition, we provide empathic listening and psychotherapeutic counseling related to issues that arise during sessions.

  • How can music therapy help people with cancer?

Music can be a powerful medium to provide relaxation, evoke emotions, awaken memories, and facilitate movement. It may also act as a lifeline to a life outside the treatment environment. In group settings, it may help form new connections with other people.

Research studies show that music therapy helps address symptoms such as anxiety, pain, and depression.  Research also shows that it can be effective at helping people express feelings, communicate, cope, and adjust.

Music therapy strengthens clients’ abilities, which transfer to other areas of life. Often, the therapist helps the client reflect on the experience with music and make meaningful connections to daily life.

Meanwhile, music therapy provides avenues for communication for those who struggle to express themselves with words.

Is music therapy just for people who are already musically talented?

Not at all! Some of the most profound moments I have witnessed have been with people with no previous musical training. It’s a privilege to see a person surprised by joy while exploring and creating sounds.

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