MONDAY, Jan. 27, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Jefri Franks says one
of the things that helped her 12-year-old daughter Heather cope
with the challenges of having cancer was music therapy -- in
particular, making a music video.
"I was relieved during the time she was doing the video because
she had something she had to do and enjoy," Franks said. "She was
busy in a good way. I think she got to tell her story the way she
A new study from Indiana University appears to back up what
Franks learned more than a decade ago. Researchers found that
adolescents and young adults undergoing cancer treatment in the
hospital who participated in a music therapy program that included
writing song lyrics and producing videos increased their ability to
cope and boosted their resilience.
For the study, published online Jan. 27 in the journal
Cancer, researchers tested a music therapy intervention in
113 patients, aged 11 to 24, who were undergoing stem cell
transplants for cancer. The treatment involves infusions of healthy
stem cells that help replace diseased ones.
"The kids are usually very sick during stem cell transplants.
They require a lot of supportive care," said study co-author Joan
Haase, a professor of pediatric oncology nursing at the Indiana
University School of Nursing. "Depending on the type of transplant,
up to 50 percent of these kids undergoing stem cell transplant
don't survive, so being able to say how they feel about that is
The patients were randomly assigned into either a therapeutic
music video-making group or to a comparison group in which everyone
received audio books. There were six sessions over three weeks.
The music therapist's role was to offer structure and support,
and to help the young patients reflect on their experiences and
identify what was important to them, said study lead author Sheri
Robb, an associate professor at Indiana University School of
Nursing and editor of the
Journal of Music Therapy.
"It may seem counterintuitive to be asking kids to do things
during this time, but in actuality it's helping them to move
through their treatment in a better way," Robb said. Music
therapists encouraged their patients to tap into important parts of
their lives, including their spirituality, family and other
relationships, she explained.
The phases of the intervention included writing song lyrics,
making sound recordings, collecting video images and storyboarding.
Patients could work independently or involve family, friends and
health care providers in their projects, the authors noted.
Haase said the therapeutic music video group reported
significantly better "courageous coping" skills. Even 100 days
after the stem cell transplant treatments, the music video group
reported significantly better social integration and
Lisa Gallagher, a clinical music therapist at the Cleveland
Clinic, said the study is well done.
"They did a lot of research into how to put this together, what
measures to use," Gallagher said. "It's a tough population,
adolescents who have this type of stem cell transplant. It is a
high-risk treatment and so anything that can be done for patients
who undergo this is great."
Gallagher said it's important patients receive therapy from a
board-certified music therapist, like those involved in the study
who have trained and completed either a bachelor's degree,
bachelor's equivalency, or a master's degree in music therapy, as
well as internships. A qualified music therapist has also passed a
national board certification exam, she said.
Shawna Grissom, director of child life at St. Jude Children's
Research Hospital, in Memphis, Tenn., said she's worked with music
therapists for years. "When you don't have a music therapist by
your side, you really notice it," she said. "We're working toward
the same goals -- to reduce stress and help kids get mastery over
some of the difficult things they experience -- but in different
ways. I'm coming from the north and they come up from the
She said the study findings confirm why St. Jude relies on music
therapy to help teen patients. "Just because they have language
skills, it's easy to assume adolescents and young adults can
verbally express themselves, but that's not always true," Grissom
said. "Making music videos allows these patients to project their
feelings through another outlet. It gives them a sense of control,
a medium in which they can express themselves."
Grissom added that the coping tools they learn will last a
lifetime. "We're not just working on these skills for in the
moment," she said. "We're working for lifelong skills. We don't see
this as individual patients coping just now or just during the
months they're here, but what we can give them for life."
But even when a life ends too early, music therapy can be
invaluable to a parent, according to Franks. Her daughter Heather
died in 2001 just after turning 12. A life coach who helps others
struggling with grief and loss, Franks said she talks about
Heather's experience with music therapy with other parents
grappling with a child's illness or death.
"One thing we did at the end, we got to sing the song that
Heather chose for her video," Franks said. "So Heather and her dad
and I all three sang it together. We have her voice."
To learn more about music therapy, visit the