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Music Therapy and Chronic Pain: Original Research at UL

EXAMINING THE BENEFIT OF MUSIC AND MUSIC THERAPY FOR PEOPLE LIVING WITH CHRONIC PAIN

AN IRISH RESEARCH COUNCIL FUNDED (NEW FOUNDATIONS) PROJECT

In 2019 researchers at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance led innovative research exploring the potential of music to assist people living with chronic pain to improve their health and well-being.

Dr Hilary Moss and Katie Fitzpatrick of the music therapy department at UL, and Prof Dominic Harmon, Consultant Anaesthetist at University Hospital Limerick, worked with members of Chronic Pain Ireland (CPI). CPI is an NGO providing support services to people living with chronic pain and advocating on their behalf.

There is international evidence to support the ability of music therapy (MT) to positively affect pain perception and to improve psycho-social health and well-being. The field of music, music therapy and chronic pain is well developed in the USA but very underdeveloped in Ireland and Europe. Evidence of the benefit of music in reducing pain is scarce and often has poor rigour. Research was needed in this area and we have made a significant contribution to the field. We have established ourselves as a major centre for music therapy and pain research in Ireland and Europe.

In terms of the Irish landscape, there is relatively poor understanding in medical professionals of the benefit of music for health and wellbeing, so the project and public seminars were key aspects of this project, increasing awareness and knowledge regarding the potential role of music as part of social prescribing which is increasingly being adopted by doctors To date there have been no studies on individual music therapy for people with chronic pain in Ireland. The few international studies on chronic pain and music therapy looked at group vocal music therapy and active group music therapy. Individual music therapy sessions have not been explored alongside out-patient attendance at a hospital pain clinic. 

This research aimed to strengthen existing networks in Ireland regarding music therapy and pain management and to bring this innovative, complementary approach to people living with chronic pain in Ireland.

As part of the research appearances were made on Lyric FM (Music and the mind series) and Marian Finucan radio show on RTE1 (November 2019) which brought the research and the role of music therapy for health and wellbeing into the public sphere.

This project delivered and evaluated a pilot programme of MT for clients from CPI. Ten participants engaged with weekly individual music therapy sessions and interviews were conducted with the participants following their completion of the programme of the music therapy. The data gathered revealed that participants found music therapy assisted with emotional release, relaxation, and diversion from pain. It was also found to be a supportive and meaningful occupation for people living with chronic pain.

Outcomes included the gathering of evidence to support music therapy for people with chronic pain. In particular a group music therapy programme is recommended, which may offer peer support as well as musical interventions for people with chronic pain. The sessions evidenced specific benefits of therapy sessions for participants regarding installation of hope, acceptance, relaxation and diversion from pain. Further research is underway to examine this further. A strong interdisciplinary partnership developed between GEMS and AHSS researchers and Chronic Pain Ireland. This project is a strong example of engaged research with impact for people living in the local community. Two public seminars on music for health and wellbeing have resulted from this study, the next one being planned for 14th May at the CERC building, UHL as well as journal publication (in press).

This was the first and only study on the benefit of music for people with chronic pain in Ireland and the team are establishing themselves as national leaders in this area. It is one of very few to explore the role of music for people with chronic pain in community settings (rather than in-patient). The project had real impact for people living with chronic pain, through participation in practical music therapy and through information and dissemination through Chronic Pain Ireland partnership.

The study is part of a larger study by Ms Katie Fitzpatrick, to develop a protocol for music therapy with people with chronic pain in Ireland.

For more information on this project and work on music, health and well-being at UL contact Hilary Moss, Senior Lecturer, hilary.moss@ul.ie Tel 0876105553

Acknowledgments: The Irish Research Council.

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