Music therapy positive for young cancer patients

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A new study has found that adolescents and young adults undergoing cancer treatment gain coping skills and resilience-related outcomes when they participate in a therapeutic music video (TMV) process that includes writing song lyrics and producing videos. The findings indicate that such TMV 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. Joan E. Haase, PhD, RN, FAAN, and Sheri L. Robb, PhD, MT-BC, both of the Indiana University School of Nursing in Indianapolis, led a team that tested a TMV intervention designed to improve resilience in such patients undergoing stem cell transplant treatments for cancer. Resilience is the process of positively adjusting to stressors, including those associated with a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The researchers' TMV 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 health care 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 health care 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 an opportunity to gain a better understanding about the patients' perspectives on their cancer, their treatments, and their desires for the future.

For the study, 113 patients aged 11 to 24 years who were undergoing stem cell transplant treatments for cancer were randomized to be part of a TMV intervention group or to be part of a control group that received audiobooks. Participants completed six sessions over 3 weeks. The study was published in Cancer (2014; doi:10.1002/cncr.28355).

After the intervention, the TMV group reported significantly better courageous coping. One hundred days after stem cell transplant treatments, the TMV group reported significantly better social integration and family environments. The investigators found that several protective factors helped adolescents and young adults to be resilient in the face of cancer treatments. These factors included spiritual beliefs and practices; having a strong family environment characterized by adaptability, cohesion, and positive communication; and feeling socially connected and supported by friends and health care providers.

“These protective factors influence the ways adolescents and young adults cope, gain hope, and find meaning in the midst of their cancer journey,” said Haase. “Adolescents and young adults who are resilient have the ability to rise above their illness, gain a sense of mastery and confidence in how they have dealt with their cancer, and demonstrate a desire to reach out and help others.”

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