Music and art therapy for new parent anxiety

The prevalence of perinatal anxiety is increasing in Australia, yet non-pharmacological treatment options are few in number and under researched.

Flinders University researchers are exploring a fresh route, using music in combination with art for a new type of simple, low-cost anxiety therapy.

The aim of music and art therapy-designed intervention is to reduce anxiety symptoms and to increase maternal/foetal/newborn connectedness for antenatal women and postnatal women who have their newborns in intensive care or special care nursery environments.

“This innovative, cost effective, women-centred and a potentially midwifery-led program as an intervention will help combat of perinatal anxiety,” says Flinders University’s Helena Anolak, who is conducting the study with registered music therapist Bec Watt and Associate Professor Charlene Thornton from the College of Nursing and Health Science.

Ms Anolak, who completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts before studying midwifery, has been using drawing and narrative tasks to help allay anxiety for expectant mothers experiencing difficult pregnancies, and believes it can represent part of a better intervention therapy.

“I’ve been doing this in my midwifery work for about 10 years and have seen terrific results, but now we are exploring programs combining art, music and literature that were initiated in Melbourne to help curb anxiety,” she says. “These have not previously been linked to helping expectant mothers, which is why we will complete a formal study, to reinforce what we have already experienced as being effective.”

The researchers will be conducting a 12-month pilot study at Flinders Medical Centre, with assistance from Arts in Health at Flinders Medical Centre, and from March they will be recruiting expectant mothers experiencing high-risk pregnancies.

An explanation of the study – “Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) combined with Music, Drawing and Narrative (MDN) as an intervention for reducing perinatal anxiety“, by Helena Anolak, Bec Watt and Charlene Thornton, published in the journal Women and Birth (doi.org/10.1016/j.wombi.2018.08.095) – reinforces that this simple program can assist a growing need for anxiety treatment options.

The Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) program and Music, Drawing and Narrative (MDN) program show that music in combination with art is seen as a beneficial therapeutic modality in other areas of health, but its potential to benefit childbearing women who are suffering anxiety symptoms is a new angle that deserves more detailed exploration.

“There are clearly elucidated associations between perinatal anxiety and adverse birth outcomes, gestational diabetes, cognitive, behavioural and emotional problems in children, the risk of interrupted parental attachment and incidents of antenatal and postnatal depression,” says Ms Anolak.

“The sessions could make a significant contribution to the way midwives and the community work with women experiencing anxiety both before and after they give birth.

“This women-centred care program is unobtrusive, easy to implement and conduct, ethical, flexible (which means it can be delivered in any space or environment) and non-pharmacological.”

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