CaSfA - Cancer Support for All
News from CaSfA's Director

Music Therapy

We were so fortunate to have cancer survivor and CaSfA member, Kathleen M. Howland, Ph.D., present CaSfA’s first evening presentation, “Music Therapy:  A Powerful Support for Cancer Treatment and Beyond". Dr. Howland is a true expert in the field of music therapy.  She teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in music therapy, neuroscience and positive psychology at Berklee College of Music and the Boston Conservatory. She is a certified music therapist and a licensed speech pathologist.  For over 30 years, she has worked with a variety of clinical
populations using music to enhance speech, language, cognition and movement.  She has developed therapy protocols to reduce stress and anxiety in order to improve general wellness, surgical preparation and oncology treatments.
Kathleen shared her experience fighting cancer.  She spoke of that awful moment of being told she had breast cancer, the fifteen months of chemotherapy and her mastectomy.
Her experience was similar to that of many of us—trying to maintain a “normal” life while undergoing treatment, balancing work, home, and hospital.  She spoke of those chemo days when she could barely get herself to walk out the door and go for treatment.  Then she turned to music.  She would sing herself a calming song and it gave her the strength and resilience to get through her treatments.  She also used music for deep relaxation and calm.  It elicited biological effects similar to meditation.
Music can be used for:
The type of music each person assigns to these categories is different.  One piece of music may provide relaxation to one person, but be motivational for another.
Kathleen next told us about the “Relaxation Response”, a term coined by Dr. Herbert Benson.  It is defined as the conditioning of the body to release chemicals and brain signals that make your muscles and organs slow down.  This response can be used to treat many stress-related disorders.
There are many methods to elicit the Relaxation Response including visualization, progressive muscle relaxation, acupuncture, massage, breathing techniques, prayer, meditation, tai chi, and yoga.  
Music can also be used to elicit the relaxation response.  Kathleen herself used it before her surgery and the anesthesiologist was able to reduce the amount of anesthesia she received, reducing her post-operative side effects.  She was able to use music to reduce anxiety, pain, and stress, greatly decreasing, and even eliminating the need for many medications.
Along with recommending Dr. Benson’s book, The Relaxation Response, Kathleen also suggested:
·      Her web site .  It features clinicians, including Kathleen, who share their experiences with music therapy.
·      Go through your music collection and create multiple playlists including a playlist for Comfort, one for Motivation and one for Relaxation.  You might also consider one for Dance—whatever gives you joy! 
·      Try to find a bit of laughter each day.  Kathleen shared a few videos from “Just For Laughs” --we all enjoyed them!
·      Devote 12-20 minutes a day to training yourself to elicit the relaxation response—use music, meditation, t’ai chi, etc.—whatever works best for you.  (A member highly recommends Mark W. Muesse’s “Practicing Mindfulness” course available on )
Music Therapy is available at:
St. Vincent Hospital offers Music Therapy classes on Thursdays at 9:30am.  For more information email Lan Curtin at or call the Cancer and Wellness Center at (508) 363-5000.
Many thanks to Kathleen for such an informative presentation!
Find out more about Kathleen and Music Therapy, including the services she offers and a contact form, at and view her TEDx talk at

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