Music therapy helps cancer patient

Music therapy is used around the world in a variety of settings, from psychiatric units to schools to hospitals

Andrew Hittler of Webster Groves describes himself as a fan of 70s rock.

“I always liked Bob Dylan, Bob Seeger, Cat Stevens, James Taylor.”

These days Hittler likes music for a different reason. The 58-year-old’s ongoing cancer treatment makes him extremely anxious and quiet music helps with his anxiety.

“It relaxes you,” said Hittler. "It’s unbelievable.”

At the St. Louis University Cancer Center, music therapy is the intersection of psychology, medicine and music. One of the by-products of World War II was the growing use of music therapy. Musicians went to veterans hospitals around the country to perform for soldiers suffering from physical and psychological trauma. Music therapy is now used in a variety of settings including burn units, psychiatric hospitals, schools, correctional centers and cancer facilities.

“One of the benefits of music therapy is that it is very non-invasive,” said Crystal Weaver, senior music therapist at St. Louis University Cancer Center. “Unlike medications, the chances of there being adverse side effects are really, really slim.”

Brain injuries, dementia, pain and sleep are a few of the many health issues where music therapy can have a positive impact said Weaver.

“It can even be applied to children with autism and intellectual disabilities,” said Weaver.

One of the most well-known music therapy patients is Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who survived an assassination attempt. Music therapy helped her regain her ability to talk.

“Because of her injury, one part of her brain was affected and so she wasn’t able to speak anymore because she couldn’t express what she wanted because that part of her brain was damaged,” said Weaver, “but she could still sing.”

Andrew Dwiggins didn’t set out to be a music therapist. He used to be in the band Greenwheel, which was signed to a record label and recorded a song Dwiggins wrote called “Breathe” that caught the attention of Melissa Ethridge.

“A single of ours got picked up by Melissa Etheridge at the time and she got nominated for a Grammy for that song.”

Now his guitar and vocal performances are more intimate and satisfying.

“It’s absolutely where I want to be and what I want to do,” Dwiggins said.

Cancer patients like Andrew Hittler are the beneficiaries.

“In the beginning, sure I was skeptical,” said Hittler. “It helps quite a bit.”


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