Music therapy is here, and it's helping some

Music therapy is here, and it's helping some

Many hospitals and therapists are using music to help patients with cancer deal with the pain.

Renowned musician Stephen Devassy, who was in the city recently to perform for an evening hosted by HCG Hospital and Swaralaya Academy, is a childhood cancer survivor himself.

"I was nine or ten years old when I developed leukemia as a reaction to a drug. My family told me the entire story only when I was 18 years old," recalls Devassy, who now plays at government hospitals, mental hospitals, jails, orphanages, and old age homes.

The drug that caused his cancer was pulled out of the market following a Supreme Court order.

"People come and talk, and tell me never stop to playing. Sometimes they cry or say they are feeling better," he says.

Dr Brinda  Seetharam, consultant – Psycho-oncology, HCG,  endorses music therapy. "It does have a therapeutic effect but we don't really have scientific data on how it works and to what extent it works. What matters is the patient's experience," she says.

Clinically, she has observed children undergoing radiation calming down when their favourite song is played. "Patients tell me that listening to slokas and bhajans brings more peace than the technology-driven relaxation training," she says.

Treatment has to be personalised. "If somebody is tone deaf, then obviously it won't work for them," she says.


Credentials question


Hospitals are also guarded in their approach as not many therapists are trained.

That is a concern understood by Meenakshi Ravi, music therapist, Meera Center For Music Therapy Education and Research.

"Music therapy is still at an infant stage in India. Very few music therapists are qualified, and there is no common course either," she says.

Meera is a professionally qualified music therapist with a PhD in counselling. She is also a musician. "Others are doing this in their own way," she says.

Pain management does become easier with music therapy, she vouches.

"A good friend of mine succumbed to cancer recently. She used to call me while undergoing chemotherapy and request me to sing a particular raga," she says.

The friend would feel greater discomfort without musical intervention.

Bhagya Ajaikumar, director, Swasti Contemporary Art Gallery, says creative therapy in general can facilitate a better body-mind connection for patients with chronic illnesses.

"Engaging patients in creativity can reduce their stress, divert their mind from pain and anxiety and help them relax in the hospital environment," she says.

At her centre, paediatric patients created art on International Childhood Cancer Day, February 15.

"Every child opted for bright colours and was thrilled to create art," she says.

Some hospitals have been experimenting with music therapy for specific kinds of cancer.

"We have been using it for patients with breast cancer. We use breath and muscles exercises and chanting of 'omkar' as physiological cues to relax," explains Raghavendra Rao M, general manager, Health Care Global Enterprises.

Research shows chanting such monosyllables stimulates the vagus nerve near the internal ear and calms the brain, he says.

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