Guided Imagery and Music Support during Cancer Treatment

Anthony Meadows, PhD MT-BC FAMI LPC
Joan Karnell Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital
Last Modified: June 8, 2011

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Music therapy may be used to support your cancer treatment. This guide includes recommendations for music that has been carefully chosen for its supportive qualities. Some CDs incorporate guided imagery and music, while others focus on quiet, soothing music.

These CDs can address the following:

  • Stress, anxiety and relaxation
  • Muscle tension
  • Positive imagery
  • Healing imagery
  • Sleep

The Joan Karnell Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital has a music library that patients can access. If your cancer center does not have a CD library or music therapist, you can use this guide to help you choose music from a music store or your local library. iTunes offers many of the pieces mentioned in this guide for individual purchase, and those readers familiar with iTunes may wish to develop a music listening catalogue that way. In addition, a music therapist can give you guidance regarding selection and use (see below for how to find a therapist in your area).

Types of CDs

There are two categories of CDs in this guide:

  1. Guided imagery and music CDs use a combination of soothing music and spoken guided relaxation and imagery. These CDs focus on themes such as relaxation, positive imagery, healing imagery and sleep.
  2. Quiet music CDs provide a number of individual pieces that can be soothing and relaxing. Some of these CDs are more classical in nature, while others have a "new age" quality.

Using the CDs

Choosing and listening to a CD is a very personal thing. While these CDs have been carefully chosen for their therapeutic potential, there are a wide range of responses possible for any CD. So, while some patients find guided imagery and music CDs very helpful during treatment, others find it unhelpful; similarly, many patients find listening to music very supportive during treatment, whereas others prefer silence.

Getting Started

If you have not used music, or guided imagery and music during treatment, then you may like to experiment by choosing a number of CDs and listening to the beginning of each. This will give you a sense of the tone and quality of each CD.

Each CD offers a different kind of listening experience. Some CDs provide short (4-7 minutes) pieces that are original compositions or based upon traditional music (e.g. The Water is Wide). Other Cds offer longer tracks (up to 30 minutes) that are based upon classical music (e.g. Pachelbel Canon) or music-imagery combinations that guide your through an imagery experience (e.g. a place in nature).

While the longer tracks tend to offer a deeper, more relaxing listening experience, choose your music according to how you feel now. Consider the following:

  • If you feel tense or anxious, the guided imagery and music CDs may be especially helpful as a number focus specifically on relaxation (e.g. Harmony of Music and Body)
  • If you feel fatigued and want to rest, CDs such as Timeless Motion and Fragments of a Dream may be helpful as they focus on longer, extended music listening.
  • If you would like a quiet music listening CD to accompany your treatment, consider Peace, Oh What a Beautiful Morning, and World on a String.

Additional Support

While listening to CDs during treatment can be very helpful, there are some limitations. Any CD uses a prescribed imagery script. For some people, this is very helpful, but for others, the script may not match their experience, or imagery preferences. Working directly with the music therapist provides the individual attention and music/imagery development that will best match your needs. The music therapist is also there to discuss your imagery experience with you. This can be very helpful when you are feeling anxious or overwhelmed.

Please feel free to discuss this with your nurse if you would like more information about working with the music therapist.

Finding & Scheduling a Session with a Music Therapist
Should you wish to learn more about the music listening CD library, develop techniques you can use at home, or work directly with the music therapist, you can find a therapist in your area by contacting the Music Therapy Association or by searching for a certified therapist on the Certification Board for Music Therapy website.

Quiet Music

Peace - Daniel Kobialka
10 instrumental arrangements of traditional music that includes Greensleeves, The Water is Wide and Scarlett Ribbons.

Fragments of a Dream - Daniel Kobialka
3 extended instrumental arrangements or "classical" music: Gymnopedies, Air on a G String, and Mystique

Timeless Motion - Daniel Kobialka
3 extended instrumental arrangements of classical and new age music, including the Pachelbel Canon.

Dreams beyond Twilight - Daniel Kobialka
3 extended classical pieces, arranged in a new age style: Ravel's Bolero, Pachelbel's Canon and Kobialka's Timeless Spirals

Oh What a Beautiful Morning - Daniel Kobialka
7 instrumental arrangements of classical and traditional music, including Lullaby of the Ages (Brahms), Tender Love, Gift of Dreams and Lullaby of Ribbons

Pathless Journey - Daniel Kobialka
9 new age compositions with an ethereal quality. Includes Gentle Raindrops Falling on Leaves; Distant Voices; Unfathomed Silence and Pathless Journey

World on a String - Daniel Kobialka
11 instrumental arrangements of music from around the world - generally light and playful in style: Por Un Amor; Singing the Night; Caribbean Wind and Path to Asia.

Going Home Again - Daniel Kobialka
7 instrumental arrangements or traditional songs, including The Water is Wide, Celtic melody, and Scarlett Ribbons

Guided Imagery and Music

Harmony of Mind and Body - Kobialka and Mandel
Guided music assisted relaxation, with instructions (32 minutes).

Guided Imagery for Stressful Times - Tusek
Two imagery experiences: tropical serenity and mountain babbling brook.

Guided Imagery for Courage, Strength and Hope - Tusek
Imagery focuses on finding courage, strength and hope, using affirmations.

Music Journeys (volumes I and II) - - Quitmeyer and Wesley
Guided imagery with music that focuses on relaxation; each CD includes a music only track.

PM Yoga Meditations - Chiarella
4 meditations that focus on sleep: letting go and completing your day; relaxation body scan; restful and rejuvenating sleep; lullaby with the breath.

Further Listening Guidelines

Please be aware that you should not drive a vehicle or do anything strenuous immediately after listening to these CDs. When experienced deeply, they induce a deep state of calm and relaxation. It can take some time to move back into a normal waking state of awareness. In doing so, it can be helpful to drink plenty of water, and walk until you feel completely ready to resume your normal activities.

Online Resources

A wide range of materials on music, relaxation and imagery are available online. These are a sample of the materials available. Please note that providing information on these sites is not an endorsement.

Guided Imagery

Martin Rossman, MD, has written extensively on guided imagery in cancer care. Visit www.sciencedirect.com then search "Martin Rossman". See specifically Guided Imagery in Cancer Care, found in Seminars in Integrative Medicine, volume 2, issue 3, September 2004.

Buying Music/Imagery CDs and downloads

Wonder of Sound offers a number of music listening Cds by Daniel Kobialka, many of which are included in our own listening library

Searching the Web

Search keywords: music and imagery; relaxation scripts; sleep disorders; guided imagery and music

Educational Materials

Psych Central provides an introduction to music and imagery. Note the links at the bottom of the first page, offering information on imagery in everyday life and imagery scripts

Imagery Scripts

Julie Lusk's 30 Scripts for Relaxation, Imagery and Inner Healing

Articles/Research

A link to a number of research articles focused on music therapy in cancer care


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