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Form of music therapy helps younger cancer patients cope

Sunday February 16, 2014
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Adolescents and young adults undergoing cancer treatment gain coping skills and improve in resilience-related outcomes when they participate in a therapeutic music process that includes writing song lyrics and producing videos, according to a study.

Published Jan. 27 on the website of Cancer, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the findings indicate that such music therapy interventions can provide essential psychosocial support to help young patients positively adjust to cancer.

Few interventions target the unique psychosocial needs of adolescents and young adults with cancer, according to a journal news release. Joan E. Haase, RN, PhD, FAAN, and Sheri L. Robb, PhD, MT-BC, led a team that tested a music therapy intervention designed to improve resilience in such patients undergoing stem cell transplant treatments for cancer at eight Children’s Oncology Group sites. Resilience is the process of positively adjusting to stressors, including those associated with a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The researchers’ Therapeutic Music Video intervention was designed to help adolescents and young adults explore and express thoughts and emotions about their disease and treatment that might otherwise go unspoken. Through the creative process of writing song lyrics and producing videos, a board-certified music therapist offers structure and support to help patients reflect on their experiences and identify what is important to them, such as their spirituality, family and relationships with peers and healthcare providers.

As they move through phases of the intervention — including sound recordings, collecting video images and storyboarding — patients have opportunities to involve family, friends and healthcare providers in their project, maintaining those important connections during treatment and encouraging communication. Once complete, videos can be shared through video premieres, which allow others to gain a better understanding about the patients’ perspectives on their cancer, their treatments and their hopes.

For the study, 113 patients ages 11 to 24 years who were undergoing stem cell transplant treatments for cancer were randomized to be part of a Therapeutic Music Video intervention group or a control group that received audiobooks. Participants completed six sessions over three weeks.

After the intervention, the TMV group reported significantly better courageous coping. A hundred days post-transplant, the TMV group reported significantly better social integration and family environment, as well as moderate — though not statistically significant — effect sizes for spiritual perspective and self-transcendence, as measured by a statistical model.

When the investigators interviewed the patients’ parents, they found the videos gave parents insights into their children’s cancer experiences; however, parents needed help to initiate and sustain important conversations about messages shared through their children’s videos. To address this need, the study team has received funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Children’s Oncology Group to examine the potential benefits of adding a parent communication component to their intervention.

The study’s findings provide evidence supporting the use of a music-based intervention delivered by a music therapist to help adolescents and young adults positively cope with high-risk, high-intensity cancer treatments, the authors wrote. “The availability of music therapy services from a board-certified music therapist in the United States has become more widespread, and through studies like this one, we hope to see increased availability and access to this important allied health service,” Robb said in the news release.

“One of the challenges in healthcare 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.”

Study abstract: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.28355/abstract


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