The journey through a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment can be a time of significant change for patients as well as their family. During such challenging times, when individuals and their loved ones may be experiencing a range of emotions and increased stress, music therapy can support one’s physical and emotional well-being as an integral part of a holistic cancer care program.

Depending on numerous factors including the individual’s prognosis and goals of care, the reason for referral may differ. The music therapist will be sure to create a therapy plan alongside the patient to best facilitate sessions that will be effective. Possible reasons for referral may include:

Anxiety/Depression: Music therapy can play a significant role in helping to process complex emotional layers during such a life-altering period. A music therapist may use techniques such as improvisation or songwriting to support an individual’s well being.

  • improvisation: may promote cathartic release of emotions through instrument playing or singing, when verbal communication is more difficult
  • songwriting: may provide another medium through which patients can express their emotions. Songwriting may provide an opportunity for validation of feelings.

Pain: Music therapy can contribute to quality of life for a patient who may be experiencing pain. A music therapist may facilitate therapeutic singing or intentional music listening to aid in mitigating the pain experience.

  • therapeutic singing: based on research published in the British Journal of Pain, which focused on the benefits of singing for those with chronic pain, it has been found that singing encourages the release of endorphins, which can reduce feelings of discomfort
  • intentional music listening: an intervention that can be used during clinical situations or in other settings. Listening to music during periods of discomfort or pain may help distract patients from the situation at hand and lend to a sense of calm.

Difficulty with range of motion/rehabilitation following surgery: Music therapists trained in Neurologic Music Therapy (NMT) are skilled in evidence-based treatment that use standardized techniques to treat the brain using elements of music such as rhythm and melody. Standardized NMT techniques such as Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation (RAS) are used to achieve nonmusical goals such as physical movement.

  • rhythmic auditory stimulation: based on the idea of rhythmic entrainment which states that entrainment cues not only the timing of the movement, but also space and force of movement. This technique could be a complementary technique utilized in the rehabilitation process following surgery for a cancer patient.

End of Life: Music therapists can be present to support the patient and family during this stage of life. A music therapist may help facilitate legacy work, or address emotional and spiritual issues by singing a meaningful song or actively listening in a shared experience with a loved one.

  • legacy work: a practice that validates and celebrates life experiences of an individual through songwriting and documentation of memories, as well as allow for meaningful conversations among family members

At Wellington Music Therapy Services, our music therapists are highly skilled in techniques to best serve and support you in times of need. Please do not hesitate to reach out to learn more about how we can serve you and your family!


Hopper, Mirella J et al. “A qualitative study exploring the effects of attending a community pain service choir on wellbeing in people who experience chronic pain.” British journal of pain vol. 10,3 (2016): 124-34.

Stanczyk, Malgorzata. “Music therapy in supportive cancer care.” Reports of practical oncology and radiotherapy vol. 16 (2011): 170-172.

Thaut, Michael and Hoemberg, V., editors. Handbook of Neurologic Music Therapy. Oxford University Press, 2014.