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Music Therapy May Help Teens With Cancer Cope

Writing lyrics, making videos helped them get through grueling treatment, connect with others, study found

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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 south."

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."

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