Music therapist Dr. Deforia Lane set to speak Tuesday at UND

On any given day, Deforia Lane could be bringing music to a cancer patient, a teenager with a brain tumor, a child with cerebral palsy or a 40-something adult with Down syndrome.

Dr. Deforia Lane
Dr. Deforia Lane

On any given day, Deforia Lane could be bringing music to a cancer patient, a teenager with a brain tumor, a child with cerebral palsy or a 40-something adult with Down syndrome.

Lane and her colleagues work with a wide range of patients including those who are battling Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, recovering from surgery, struggling with depression, or learning to walk again after a stroke.

A music therapist, she uses music to help people heal or regain ability by blending the artistic expression of music with the science of healing. She helps patients express the fear, confusion and pain they're feeling.

Her methods include engaging the patient in singing a favorite tune, playing a musical instrument, writing a song, or taking "a bongo and beating the tar out of that thing, to exhaustion," she said.

In her practice, which extends "from first cry to last breath," she said, she cares for people of all ages, from newborn to elderly.


"We're looking for what we can do in those different moments" of life when illness or pain intervene.

Lane is associate director of the Seidman Cancer Center and director of music therapy at University Hospitals of Cleveland and Seidman Cancer Center.

Grand Forks visit

In her talk Tuesday in Grand Forks, "Music and Medicine: A Dynamic Partnership," she'll describe her experience of the healing power of music and "how we use different elements of music for rehabilitation," she said.

Her message will mix "personal sharing and professional strategies," she said. The talk is open to everyone, not just health professionals.

She'll show audience members "how to integrate music into their lives to benefit themselves and those they love," she said. She'll talk about what music therapy is, and shed light on the science undergirding it.

"More and more, music therapists are getting access to MRIs and cat scans (imaging technology) to see what's happening in the brain when music is applied," she said.

Research offers evidence of how music can positively affect brainwave activity, relax muscles, reduce pain, elevate mood and create hope.


Music therapy has been shown to calm agitated Alzheimer's patients and help insomniacs to sleep, she said. Children with attention deficit disorder (ADD) will sit longer and concentrate on a task.

Her presentation here will be interspersed with DVD/video segments that reveal how musical exercises, for example, help stroke patients who may know what they want to say but have trouble "retrieving" and saying the right word.

Playing a well-known song, Lane stops just short of the last word which, with therapy, the patient will usually fill in.

Shifting aspirations

With early dreams of becoming an opera singer, Lane earned a degree in vocal performance.

But later, as a graduate student, she was introduced to music therapy, a field that fulfilled her desire to use music in "a more practical way," a way that would yield a long-term impact, she said.

"I wanted very much to touch people, to reach the needs of people."

She was intrigued by the effect that music has on human beings, she said.


She went on to earn a doctorate in music education at Case Western Reserve where, for her dissertation, she investigated the effect of a single music therapy session on the immune function of hospitalized children.

In 1985, she initiated the Music as Medicine program at University Hospitals of Cleveland where it continues to grow. She has trained more than 70 music therapy interns and has consulted with corporations, hospitals, hospices, universities and foundations internationally.

She was an invited speaker at the Library of Congress's "Music and the Brain" series.

Merging music and science

Music therapy merges music and science.

"I used to think that they were really two, compartmentalized things," she said. "I learned, absolutely, they are not mutually exclusive at all.

"There's also an art to how we deliver (therapy) to someone. Just because you can deliver it, there's no guarantee that the person will accept it or receive it.

"That's the art of delivery: getting my foot in the door."


In her work with cancer patients, this is especially important.

Patients may be feeling hopeful and "have everything they need," she said. "Or they may going through a time when they can barely say the word 'cancer.'

"I look for where they are in the process of dealing with cancer, and that's where I meet them.

"Honoring that is the biggest lesson," she said. "We're each different. It behooves me to be very sensitive to that person's need. And that need can change from day to day."

Recently, she met a woman who is facing radiation therapy and "is scared to death to go under the machine," she said.

By teaching visualization and by speaking "in a tone that gets their attention and the speed at which I talk, I'm shocked to see what happens."

The effectiveness of music in alleviating the perception of pain has been substantiated through research.

Pain studies at the 1000-bed hospital where she works have involved "a potpourri of hospitalized, significantly ill patients," including those with cancer and multiple sclerosis, she said.


"Before we begin a music therapy session we ask patients to rate their pain on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no pain and 10 being excruciating," she said. "After the music relaxation procedure we ask them to again rate their pain. If it moves from an 8 to a 3 or 4 that indicates the music has been effective."

Through randomized control trials, "we've achieved significant positive results" that prove the effectiveness of music therapy in relieving pain.

"In pain rated four or above, we know music has affected that pain perception."

The way patients respond to music therapy depends on "the way we are wired," she said, "and your own personal exposure to music.

"I must adjust (therapy) for people who are from Appalachia or from the Middle East. We are very individualized how we use music."

In treating patients, the therapist searches for the best use of music to stimulate a particular response in the brain.

"The music therapist must be eclectic," she said. "I've had to use rap (have mercy), I've had to use everything. Once you connect music with the need, it's a 'go' from there."

Personal experience


One of her "great teachers" was her own battle with breast cancer in the early 1980s.

The experience gave her a depth of insight and understanding that she could never have attained, had she not gone through it, she said.

"Cancer taught me what no book could have."

She understands what cancer patients go through: "the shock, the denial, the courage it takes, the emotional rollercoaster, the not knowing how this is going to end," she said.

"I'm grateful I survived. There's a vulnerability that illness brings that keeps me very humble."

She can empathize with patients in a way that only be attained through shared personal experience.

"I'm a little wiser, I think, for having walked a mile in those shoes... I share what I've learned about living, even for those who are in the throes of dying."

Cancer taught her about "the reality and fragility of life, and that there are different ways and moments throughout that journey," she said.

"Out of my pain I gained understanding and credibility. Patients listen to me with different ears, or maybe it's me who's listening with different ears."

IF YOU GO: 5:30 p.m., Tuesday at UND medical school, Keller Auditorium, 501 N. Columbia Road (south entrance), free

Call Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1107; or send e-mail to .

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at or (701) 780-1107.
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