Since its inception in 1997, Music Therapy at Peter Mac has enhanced the hospital experience of countless patients, alleviating both physical and emotional pain.

This World Music Therapy Day marks 25 years since the music therapy service was first introduced to cancer patients at Peter Mac back in 1997.

Since then, registered music therapists have engaged patients in music experiences to help reduce sleeplessness, stress, anxiety, breathlessness and emotional pain.

Patients affected by cancer also participate in music therapy sessions as a reflective exercise or to create a legacy gift for loved ones through song, instrumental or voice recordings. 

Senior Music Therapist, Hayley Miller, says the role of a music therapist is to “harness the power of music to address a patient’s specific needs.”

“Music has an ability to stir emotions, to promote movement, to provide an escape, and to bring people together,” Ms Miller said.

Children and young adults also benefit from music therapy as a way of reducing anxiety before and after treatment or a procedure. Peter Mac’s Paediatric, Adolescent and Young Adult Music Therapist, Stefanie Zappino, says that music offers younger patients a unique coping mechanism that has proven hugely effective when adjusting to the challenges of a cancer diagnosis.

“I just love seeing the smiles on our youngest patients’ faces when they come into the hospital and are so excited to play music before treatment. It is a privilege to be the fun part of their day!” Ms Zappino said.

Experienced Music Therapist and researcher, Associate Professor Clare O’Callaghan AM, was instrumental in establishing the music therapy service at Peter Mac alongside oncologist Professor John Zalcberg OAM.

Associate Professor O’Callaghan reflects on the impact music therapists had on the hospital at the time: “Staff were mostly open, curious, and, upon witnessing the effect of music therapy on patients and families, very supportive. Many also reported that overhearing music therapy was personally supportive, and that music therapists enabled a more humane work environment, which could enhance patient care and teamwork.”

Professor Zalcberg’s vision for establishing a music therapy practice at Peter Mac was captured in the Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology in 2006:

“In our day-to-day lives, could we imagine a world without music? Music - that primal force that gives forth expressions of love, anger, frustration, despair, and hope, and all while facilitating communication between people and between cultures, and providing solace and peace.

How appropriate then that music be part of the treatment program for patients with life-threatening diseases such as cancer. More than any other discipline, those of us who have had the privilege of working with experienced music therapists have seen this force bring relief to so many whose existential suffering, in the midst of the chaos of a life-threatening illness, has eclipsed their soul.

Music therapy, for better or worse, is now a quantitative as well as a qualitative science. These articles illustrate the role of music therapists, helping patients of all ages and their carers survive cancer treatment, assisting them to get on with life, or to contemplate its ending, with dignity and in peace.”

John R. Zalcberg [J Soc Integr Oncol 2006;4(2)]

Music therapy at Peter Mac