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This article was last updated on Feb. 21, 2017

Music surrounds us and impacts our daily lives in ways too numerous to count. Many of us use music to influence our mood, energy level, motivation, and connection with the world. Whether you listen to music while sitting at your desk, in your car, or on the treadmill, music can help you power through the task at hand. It’s no secret that music can help to push you forward during difficult times, but did you know it may also be therapeutic for those fighting a life-threatening disease?

Stephanie Miller, CMP, VAHTP, co-founder of Music for Life of Pittsburgh, provides live therapeutic music for the Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

Stephanie, who plays live therapeutic harp music for patients, shared some information about therapeutic music, music therapy, and vibroacoustic harp therapy, and how each can help people with cancer and other health issues.

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What Is Live Therapeutic Music?

Used in various settings including hospitals, hospice care, and home care, therapeutic music utilizes live music to provide an environment to encourage the healing process. Therapeutic musicians are certified through various training programs and have credentials offered by their specific programs.

Live therapeutic music has been shown to help reduce anxiety, help to regulate blood pressure and respiration rates, and reduce stress in patients, caregivers, and surrounding staff. This type of therapy can be easily adapted to meet the immediate and emerging needs of the patient. Here are some examples of how therapeutic music can be used. It can be played for the following:

  • Chemotherapy treatment to help ease tensions during the process
  • Caregivers in the surgical waiting room to reduce stress
  • Patients before surgery to reduce stress and anxiety and also post-surgery to help with the recovery process.
  • Patients undergoing stem cell transplants during their stay at the hospital as they recover from treatment.

What Is Music Therapy?

According to the American Music Therapy Association, this practice uses music to address emotional, social, physical, and cognitive needs of individuals. Music therapy can be used with all ages, from work with pre-natal to hospice and end of life care and anyone in between, including people with cancer. The music is used as a tool to reach non-musical, therapeutic goals. This is not a performance; the focus is not about the product so much as it is the process of being in and engaging with the music.

Music therapy is conducted by a board-certified music therapist from an accredited training program. A key component of music therapy is the relationship that exists between the client, therapist, and the music itself. This is the foundation that the therapist adapts and applies musical interventions to meet the emerging goals of the client.

Some examples of music therapy goals for people with cancer and other illnesses are to:

  • Promote wellness
  • Manage stress
  • Alleviate pain
  • Promote physical rehabilitation
  • Express feelings
  • Enhance memory
  • Deepen one’s relationship with their selves and the world around them

What Is Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy?

Stephanie is a graduate of the Music for Healing and Transition Program and works as a certified music practitioner, providing live therapeutic harp music at the bedside. The Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy (VAHT) process harnesses the harp’s natural vibrations via amplification and channels them directly into a special mat that has embedded speakers. The patient is instructed to lie on the mat, where he/she will be able to feel the harps vibrations moving through his or her body. The VAHT experience is said to feel like a musical massage.

Vibroacoustic harp therapy practitioners are graduates of the VAHT training program offered by Sarajane Williams, MA, VAHTP, the creator of this unique therapy.

Each music selection is tailored to the client’s individual needs. The vibrations from this personalized music can penetrate areas in which hands are unable to go, helping to restoring the body’s own natural rhythms for health and well-being.

Benefits of VAHT include:

  • Pain, stress, and anxiety relief
  • Nausea relief
  • Lymphedema reduction
  • There are no side effects
  • Can be used in conjunction with traditional approaches
  • Sessions can vary in length from one half hour to full hour

Therapeutic music, Music Therapy and Vibroacoustic Harp Therapy can be used in collaboration with traditional treatment.

Music for Life of Pittsburgh, LLC provides tailored experiences with music, from therapy and wellness to ceremony and entertainment. Music for Life of Pittsburgh is cofounded by Stephanie Miller, CMP, VAHTP, and Robert Miller, MS, MT-BC.

About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

When you are facing cancer, you need the best care possible. UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York, with more than 200 oncologists – making it easier for you to find world-class care close to home. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment. Most of all, we are here for you. Our patient-first approach aims to provide you and your loved ones the care and support you need. To find a provider near you, visit our website.