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Music Therapy: Proposed Physiological Mechanisms and Clinical Implications

Watkins, Gwendolyn R. M.S., R.N.

Graduate Student Scholarship

ALTHOUGH STILL CONTROVERSIAL, studies suggest that music therapy can be an effective nursing intervention in stressful situations for decreasing anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate. This article (1) reviews research related to the effect of music on anxiety, blood pressure, and heart rate; (2) proposes a potential physiological framework for the effects of music; and (3) suggests clinical implications for the use of music therapy in acute-and chronic-care settings by clinical nurse specialists (CNSs). Findings from clinical research suggesting that music may facilitate a reduction in the stress response include decreased anxiety levels, decreased blood pressure and heart rate, and changes in plasma stress hormone levels. Findings from laboratory research using animal models, provide beginning, although speculative, support for a physiological framework of music's influence on the stress response. Music therapy may be useful in a wide range of clinical settings with patients experiencing health problems as diverse as hypertension/cardiovascular disease, migraine headaches, and gastrointestinal ulcers. Suggestions for development of a music therapy procedure and for areas in need of additional research are offered.

GWENDOLYNR, WATKINS is a doctoral student in Nursing Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has over 15 years of clinical experience in critical care and perioperative settings in both staff nurse and clinical educator roles.

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