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Music, Creativity and Wellness Lab

The Music, Creativity and Wellness Lab is focused on researching the impact of music therapy interventions on chronic pain and symptom management and investigating underlying mechanisms. Chronic pain is a major health problem that affects approximately 100 million Americans and amounts to a cost of approximately $635 million a year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued recommen­dations to move away from opioids and toward non-pharmacological therapies for the management of chronic pain. Music-based interventions such as music listening and music-guided relaxation have been extensively researched for the management of acute pain such as lab-induced pain, procedural pain and postoperative pain. However, to date, few studies have examined the effects of music interventions on chronic pain management. Moreover, intervention studies on music for pain management have focused predominantly on listening to pre-recorded music. A major objective of our lab is to study the impact and underlying mechanisms of interactive music therapy interventions that capitalize on creative music engagement by people with chronic pain and other chronic health conditions.

Principal Investigator

Headshot of Joke Bradt

Joke Bradt, PhD, MT-BC
Professor - Creative Arts Therapies

Health Sciences Building, Room 11W11
60 N. 36th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

Phone: 267.359.5508


Online Bibliography

Research on Music Therapy for Chronic Pain Management

Music4Pain Research Network

Funder: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and the NIH Office of the Director (U24AT012601)

The purpose of the Music4Pain Research Network is to enhance mechanistic understanding of music for pain management. With the support from the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and the Office of the Director, over the next five years, Bradt will lead this project and assemble a network of scientists, clinicians and musicians whose expertise spans music therapy, musical pleasure and reward, pain management, pain perception, cognitive neuroscience, behavioral medicine, rehabilitation psychology and neuropsychology with the goal of building foundational knowledge about music-based interventions for pain treatment.

Group Music Therapy for Chronic Pain Management in Service Members with Co-Morbid Chronic Pain and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury

Funder: NEA Creative Forces through the Henry M. Jackson Foundation

The purpose of this mixed methods feasibility study is twofold, namely to 1) examine the feasibility and acceptability of a six-week standardized group music therapy protocol for chronic pain management in active duty service members with mild traumatic brain injury and chronic pain using quantitative and qualitative data, and 2) obtain estimates of treatment effect and variance of the music therapy protocol compared to standard care on pain interference and pain intensity as primary outcomes and pain-related self-efficacy, depression, anxiety, positive affect, patient perception of change, post-concussive symptoms and pain medication use as secondary outcomes. This study will take place at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Anchorage, Alaska.

Mechanism of Music Therapy to Palliate Pain in Patients with Advanced Cancer (2017-2021)

Funded by the National institute of Nursing Research (R01NR016681)

The purpose of this multisite mechanistic study was to examine mediators and moderators hypothesized to account for pain-reducing effects of interactive music therapy (IMT) in people with advanced cancer who experience chronic pain. Study innovation includes: 1) first music therapy mediation study for chronic cancer pain; 2) use of biomarkers in addition to self-report measures to examine the mediation model; and 3) use of mixed methods research (self-report surveys, biomarkers, and qualitative interviews) to validate and enhance understanding of IMT's theory of action. This study took place at Hahnemann University Hospital and the Jefferson University Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, both located in Philadelphia.

The impact of music therapy on opioid use in cancer survivors with chronic pain (2018-2021)

Funded by the National institute of Nursing Research (R01NR016681, administrative supplement)

The purpose of the administrative supplement was to test the effects of interactive music therapy versus a social attention control on opioid use in cancer survivors with chronic pain who are chronic opioid users. This study took places at Hahnemann University Hospital and the Jefferson University Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center.

The Effects of Vocal Music Therapy on Core Outcomes on Chronic Pain Management (2012-2014)

Funded by the National institute of Nursing Research (R03NR013551).

This feasibility study was aimed at determining the feasibility and obtaining preliminary efficacy data for an 8-week vocal music therapy treatment protocol for chronic pain management.

Research on Music Therapy for Symptom Management

Music Therapy versus Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Cancer-related Anxiety (MELODY) (2021- 2024)

Funded by: Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute

This large-scale comparative effectiveness trial is aimed at comparing the short- and long-term effectiveness of virtual music therapy and virtual cognitive behavioral therapy to address anxiety and related symptoms in cancer survivors. We are also trying to identify how individual characteristics (e.g., race/ethnicity, educational background) may affect the treatment results.

This study is led by Dr. Jun Mao of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Dr. Bradt is co-PI.

The Impact of Music Therapy on Psychological Outcomes and Pain in Cancer Patients: A Mixed Method Study (2012)

Funded by the Drexel University College of Medicine

This comparative pilot study examined the impact of interactive music therapy versus listening to prerecorded music on management of symptoms in cancer patients during active cancer treatment.

Research on Music Therapy for Active Duty Military Service Members with PTSD and TBI (2015-current)

Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts

We have collaborated with the National Endowment for the Arts and music therapy clinicians in their Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network to conduct retrospective analyses of music therapy session data obtained at military sites served by Creative Forces. In addition, we have conducted program evaluations on the impact of the Creative Forces art therapy and music therapy programs.


headshot of Carol Ann Blank

Carol Ann Blank, PhD, MT-BC

headshot of Brigette Schneible

Brigette Schneible, PhD, MT-BC

Doctoral Students

Sarah Biedka headshot

Sarah Biedka, MMT, MT-BC


Miranda Lape headshot

Miranda Lape, graduate student

headshot of Erika Fernau

Erika Fernau, medical student

Intervention Facilitators

Allison Millstein, MS, MT-BC

Allison Millstein, MS, MT-BC

Anna Cephas, MA, MT-BC

Stephenie Sofield, PhD candidate


  • Noah Potvin, PhD, MT-BC, assistant professor of Music Therapy, Mary Pappert School of Music | School of Nursing, Duquesne University (PA)
  • Minjung Shim, PhD, BC-DMT, postdoc, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Stony Brook University (NY)
  • Donna Radl, PhD, ATR-BC, LPC, Expressive Counseling Associations, owner
  • Kate Myers-Coffman, PhD, MT-BC, assistant professor of Music Therapy, Molloy College
  • Jacelyn Biondo, PhD, BC-DMT, LPC, postdoctoral research fellow, Thomas Jefferson University
  • Clarissa Lacson, PhD, MT-BC, assistant cinical professor, Department of Creative Arts Therapies, Drexel University
  • Carrie Cottone, PhD, ATR-BC
  • James Lavino, MA, MT-BC


National endowment for the arts logo

Drexel University is the recipient of an inaugural grant under the National Endowment for the Arts’ Research Labs initiative. The lab at Drexel—Arts Research on Chronic Stress (ARCS). This lab conducts research studies at the intersection of the arts, health, and social/emotional well-being. In addition to the research studies, the lab also connect creative arts therapies with community-based arts organizations to enhance social engagement and overall well-being in those who have been affected by prolonged stressors such as chronic pain, extended caregiving, academic stress, and trauma. In the future we will feature findings from the studies including short-term/interim deliverables; working drafts/final versions of policy briefs, literature reviews, white papers, technical guide for the field.

The lead investigators for the studies are Dr. Kaimal, EdD, MA, ATR-BC (PI, Associate Professor, PhD program in Creative Arts Therapies and Dr. Bradt, PhD, MT-BC (Co-PI, Professor, PhD program in Creative Arts Therapies).

Girija Kaimal, EdD, MA, ATR-BC

Joke Bradt, PhD, MT-BC


Art Therapy in a hematology/oncology/bone marrow transplant clinics for Pediatric, Adolescent, and Young Adult patients: A pilot multi-site mixed methods observational study
Psychosocial challenges are a well-established concern for pediatric, adolescent and young adult and hem/onc patients and their caregivers. Medical art therapy is a clinical intervention that addresses the psychosocial support needs of patients and families in healthcare settings. There are however, few systematic studies that have examined clinical outcomes of art therapy for pediatric, adolescent and young adult patients, families and healthcare providers, and none that have examined key psychosocial outcomes of art therapy, such as changes in affect, anxiety, as well as quality of life. The main objective of this pilot mixed methods observational research study is to examine the associations between participation in open studio art therapy and outcomes of psychosocial well-being among pediatric, adolescent and young adult hematology/oncology patients, families, and healthcare providers. This study is being conducted in collaboration with Tracy’s Kids, Medstar Georgetown Hospital, Children’s National Hospital, New York Presbyterian and Methodist Hospital in San Antonio.

A randomized controlled trial of art therapy for service members with traumatic brain injury (TBI) and psychological health conditions
TBI has been called the signature injury of OEF and OIF, primarily related to the increased survival rates of wounded Service Members (SMs) and the increased number of brain injuries related to blast exposures. Many of these SMs experience psychological health issues related to both neurologic injury and psychological trauma associated with combat experiences. To date these psychological difficulties have been primarily treated through traditional behavioral health services, although recent research is suggesting that art therapy is an effective complementary therapy as it allows SMs additional avenues by which to process, identify, and address their psychological difficulties using verbal and non-verbal methods. Although art therapy has been shown to be related to positive health outcomes in program evaluation studies of active duty military SMs with TBI and post-traumatic stress additional research is needed to determine its effectiveness with SMs with TBI and psychological health disorders. With this in mind, the current study proposes to evaluate the effectiveness of art therapy as a complementary therapy to standard behavioral health services in service members with TBI and psychological disorders. The goal of the study is to evaluate the effectiveness of art therapy as a complement to other behavioral health interventions in the treatment of psychological difficulties in service members (SM) with traumatic brain injury (TBI). The study is being conducted at Camp Lejeune.

The impact of music therapy on post-surgical pain management
In light of the current opioid crisis in the United States, there has been increased attention to the use of non-pharmacological pain management interventions following surgery to help prevent the development of persistent post-surgical pain. Research on the use of music for pain management has been rapidly growing in the past two decades, but studies on music interventions for post-surgical pain management to date have been limited to short-term impact of music interventions (i.e. 1-2 post-operative days). The purpose of this feasibility study is to examine the impact of a brief music therapy intervention versus standard care on post-surgical pain management and opioid use in 24 patients with elective total knee replacement surgery. The music therapy intervention is led by a board-certified music therapist and is aimed at teaching surgical patients music-based pain management skills to aid with pain management following surgery. Study outcomes include pain intensity, pain-related self-efficacy, physical functioning, and opioid use. Pain intensity and opioid use will be obtained daily for the first 5 postop days. In addition, pain intensity, opioid use, physical functioning, and pain-related self-efficacy will be obtained at 2 weeks, 6 weeks and 3 months following surgery.

Group music therapy for chronic pain management with military personnel
In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued recommendations to move away from opioids and instead use non-pharmacological therapies for the treatment of chronic pain. The use of music for the management of chronic pain is increasingly gaining interest but more efficacy research is needed to encourage healthcare providers to recommend its use to patients. Moreover, the majority of research studies on music for pain management to date have focused on the analgesic effects of music for acute pain conditions (e.g. procedural pain, post-surgical pain) and have predominantly included civilian populations. The purpose of this feasibility study is to examine the effects of a 6-week standardized group music therapy treatment protocol on core outcomes in chronic pain management for service members at Eglin Air Force Base. The music therapy protocol consists of six weekly 90-minute sessions with 6-8 participants per group. Sessions are conducted by a board-certified music therapist. The treatment is based on a biopsychosocial approach to chronic pain management. Participants engage in interactive music making experiences specifically designed to address bioneurological, cognitive, emotional, and social aspects of pain perception and pain management. The protocol has been tested in civilian populations with promising results.



Girija Kaimal, EdD, MA, ATR-BC led the study on arts-based approaches to promoting health and well-being for caregivers of patients with cancer. The study compared outcomes from two brief visual self-expressive approaches with patients, family caregivers and professional healthcare providers. The study was conducted in collaboration with the Radiation Oncology Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Caregivers of patients receiving treatment at the center, as well as health care providers, were recruited to participate. The variables to be examined in the study included affect, mood, perceived stress and indicators of physiological health. The community component of the study included a public exhibition of artwork created during the study. The aim was to examine how integration of arts into different aspects of healthcare can impacted both quality of life and quality of care.

Research team:

Dr. William Levin, MD: Penn Medicine
Juan Muniz, PhD, Lab analyst, Drexel University
Janell Mensinger, PhD, Statistician, Drexel University
Ms. Jess Drass, Graduate Research Fellow, Drexel University
Ms. Rebekka Dieterich-Hartwell, Graduate Research Assistant, Drexel University
Ms. Katrina Carroll, Graduate Research Fellow, Drexel University



Joke Bradt, PhD, MT-BC will lead a mixed methods study that examines the effects of a 12-week music therapy treatment (MT) program followed by participation in community-based music groups compared to a waitlist control group on chronic pain management. The following outcomes will be measured: pain-related self-efficacy, pain interference, pain intensity, emotional distress, physical functioning and participation in social activities. The feasibility of post-intervention community music engagement in people with chronic pain will be tracked. Semi-structured interviews will be conducted with study participants about their experiences of the MT intervention and their participation in community-based music groups. The purpose of these interviews is to help explain treatment outcomes and enhance understanding of possible barriers and facilitators of treatment success. Our community partner for this project is the Settlement Music School (, one of the largest nonprofit community schools of the arts in the U. S. The School provides 10,000 weekly services of individual lessons, classes and activities in music, dance and visual arts to children and adults throughout Philadelphia.

Research team:

Fenqing Zhang, PhD, Statistician, Drexel University
Amy Kesslick, MA, MT-BC, music therapy clinician, Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Health Services, Drexel University
Mark Bottos, MCAT, Zausmer Program Director of the Kardon Center for Arts Therapy, Settlement Music School
Ming Yuan Low, MCAT, Graduate Research Fellow, Drexel University
Clarissa Karlsson, MT-BC, Graduate Research Fellow, Drexel University


Papers, Media, and Technical Reports

Peer-Reviewed Publications

Reflection Papers


The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and do not represent the views of the National Endowment for the Arts Office of Research & Analysis or the National Endowment for the Arts. The National Endowment for the Arts does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information included in this material and is not responsible for any consequences of its use.