Live Music Therapy During Immunizations in Pediatrics

Though music therapists have long worked in medical settings, establishing evidence-based practice for this division of music therapy is an ongoing endeavor.

In 2016, Sundar et al. conducted a study investigating the efficacy of music therapy interventions as procedural support. One hundred children scheduled for routine immunizations at a pediatric outpatient facility in Puducherry, India were randomized into either a control group (no treatment) or experimental group (music therapy treatment). Several parameters were then monitored during each child’s treatment. Parents were asked to complete the Modified Behavior Pain Scale (MBPS) for their children, which measured facial expression, cry, and movements. Parents were also asked to rate pain and distress levels for their children. Additionally, researchers measured systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and heart rate, of each parent before and after their child’s immunization.

Researchers acknowledged that one limitation of the study was having the children’s responses measured by proxy, but supported their procedure decisions by providing research sources that support the reliability of parental assessment.

The group that received music therapy showed statistically significant improvements in the MBPS measures and in reduction of crying spells. Though researchers found that all of the other measurements improved as well, the results were not statistically significant.

This research is valuable in further developing our understanding of how music therapists can function in a medical setting, and whether this function is efficacious. There were, however, two areas of weakness in this study beyond those mentioned by the researcher. Firstly, the control group received no treatment. As a result, this study can only posit that music therapy is better than no treatment at all.

The second weakness is the lack of intervention description. Researchers explain that the music therapy intervention entailed “singing and musical instrument playing along with visual aids (hand puppets and finger puppets)”. This sparse description, coupled with an absence of researcher approach in general, would make accurate replication of this study difficult.

In spite of these drawbacks, this study augments a growing body of researcher supporting the application of music therapy in research settings.

Reference: Sundar, S., Ramesh, B., Dixit, P. B., Venkatesh, S., Das, P., & Gunasekaran, D. (2016). Live music therapy as an active focus of attention for pain and behavioral symptoms of distress during pediatric immunization. Clinical Pediatrics, 55(8), 745-8. doi: 10.1177/0009922815610613.  PMID: 26450983