Listening to Music: another Creative Intervention for patients

I think music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.” ~billy joel


Like art, many believe music to be a universal language…that there is no need for words.  To the listener, the effects of music is both simultaneously individual and universal, i.e., communing with oneself and the larger commUNITY.

Music can induce both physiological and psychological responses in you.  The use of music to promote health and well-being is referred to by many as music therapy.  However, I prefer the term ‘Creative Intervention or Music Intervention,’ over music therapy.  Why?  Because, the word ‘therapy’ is most often associated with the behavioral music-notes6health field where healthcare professionals have expertise in the art of helping a patient psychologically.   A study of an arts support program concluded the word ‘therapy’ may be threatening to patients because most do not view themselves as needing ‘therapy.’ (1)   But, I’m not going to quibble about choosing a couple words; the most important thing is implementing music as a creative modality in healthcare so patients, families, healthcare professionals, management team and local communities all benefit.

Benefits of Listening to Music

Several studies conducted by nursing academicans present the use of music as an effective, noninvasive intervention in creating a healing environment to promote health and well-being.  Below are the main points on the physiological and psychological responses in listening to music (2-4):

  • Themes identified in art literature are similar with the values in nursing theory, i.e., beauty, personal sensitivity, celebration of life, compassion, consciousness, patience, dignity, spiritual healing, and expression of human experience
  • The arts (music) have a liberalizing effect…stimulating artistic creativity and creativity of the body in wellness and healingmusic-notes41
  • Music relieves anxiety, pain, increases feelings of relaxation, heightens the immune system, decreases blood pressure, pulse and breathing
  • Music affects emotions via the limbic system where memories are evoked in response to sensory stimuli
  • Reduces stress levels and feelings of isolation
  • Music may stimulate the release of endorphins – the body’s natural opiates and associated with pain relief and pleasurable emotions
  • Improves motivation and elevates mood.
  • Fosters comfort in uncomfortable situations
  • Listening to music increased salivary immunoglobulin A, serum melatonin levels, and decreased muscle rigidty.
  • Allows patients a sense of control in an environment that often controls them


Another qualitative study confirms the benefits of music with patients with advanced or end stage cancer at a cancer center in Australia.  Patients’ and family comments included “aliveness,” “expanded consciousness in a context where life’s vulnerability is constatnly apparent.” (5)

Music offers the nursing profession the chance to explore new strategies to enhance their care, and can be part of nursing’s healing modalities in meeting patient outcomes. Nursing interventions have always been to support, facilitate, and validate; the use of music and other creative activities in healthcare settings is no different.

To heal means not only to become well, but whole…bringing the person back in harmony with oneself, including physically, cognitively, spiritually and emotionally.

Author, Daniel Pink, concludes in his book A Whole New Mind: why right-brainers will rule the future that “the detached scientific method is no longer sufficient in medical treatment and care…approach to patient care is changing from detached concern to empathy…nursing is an empathic profession and will be one of the key professions in an age where many technical services are being outsourced, e.g. x-rays outsourced to Bangalore radiologists, etc.  Empathy – touch, presence, and comfort cannot be outsourced; it requires emotional intelligence and compassion.”

Note: if you want the bibliography – email me.


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