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March 2021

Stephan sat on steps with guitar jpeg
Peter Mac senior music therapist Stephan Skov.

The healing power of music

For more than 20 years, registered music therapists have been supporting cancer patients to alleviate physical and emotional pain and enhance their hospital experience.

With the recent expansion of the Parkville Integrated Palliative Care Service and the opening of a new palliative care unit at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, music-assisted methods are proving more helpful than ever, reducing experiences of pain, sleeplessness and anxiety felt by patients.

Whether it be through music-assisted relaxation, song writing or listening to live music in a ward, senior music therapist Stephan Skov responds to the rhythm of the room, the dynamics of the individual and a range of subtle cues to ensure a tailored service that ‘fits like a glove’.

Research has shown that music can trigger the release of endorphins and the ‘happy hormone’, oxytocin, in the brain.

‘I am in awe of what music can do – I have seen it ease physical pain, stress, nausea and restlessness,’ Mr Skov said.

‘I see how it induces laughter and makes things a little more bearable.

‘It is magical.’

For palliative care, Peter Mac music therapists are also called on to engage patients in a legacy-building process through song writing or voice recording.

Patients and families have found music to be powerful at facilitating reflection, reminiscence, the release of emotions and closure.

Where patients are too unwell to interact, families have found music can fill the silence and bring a sense of peace and calm to the room.

‘If I play the right song, the right way, the family tend to laugh more and show affection more and that reduces tension and fear in the room,’ Mr Skov said.