Temple Times Online Edition
    APRIL 20, 2006
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University Research Award

Dileo taps power of music with critically ill


Cheryl Dileo found a path to pursue her passion for music and her interest in medicine and psychology on the frontiers of the rapidly evolving field of music therapy.

Music has resonated through her life since childhood. “My dad was Italian and a music lover, and we sang together all our lives,” recalled Dileo, professor of music therapy in the Boyer College of Music and Dance and this year’s recipient of the University Research Award.

Dileo earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music therapy from Loyola University of the South, then received her doctorate in music education for college teaching from Louisiana State University — Temple’s Boyer College would establish the nation’s first Ph.D. program in music therapy some years later, in 2000. Currently, the program has 22 students enrolled, with a waiting list.

While music therapy has a broad range of applications in individuals with physical disorders, anxiety, developmental disabilities, psychiatric disorders and interpersonal problems, Dileo has focused her work on music and the field of medicine in her career as a music therapy practitioner, educator and researcher.

As a young teen, Dileo joined a choral group that visited nursing homes and performed for the elderly and disabled residents. “I knew that was the meaning of music for me, when I saw the difference music made in their lives.”

She thought briefly about medical school, but shortly after receiving her doctorate, her father became ill, and Dileo spent six weeks at his hospital bedside, an experience that underscored her chosen career path.

“Singing together was how we shared our love, and I sat there with my dad singing our favorite songs, Sinatra, Tony Bennett. … I saw up-close and intensely personal the transformative power of music therapy in a medical setting,” she said.

Now recognized as one of the world’s leading researchers in the field, her work has centered on four major areas.

In medical music therapy, Dileo developed a meta-analysis summarizing the research and assessing the effectiveness of music therapy interventions on medical patients across 12 medical specialties. Currently, she is working with HIV patients at Temple University Hospital, analyzing the effects of music therapy sessions on their immune status, quality of life and feelings of isolation. This fall, her work will extend to music therapy clinical trials for multicultural patients with cancer and heart disease.

Co-chair of the ethics board of the American Music Therapy Association, Dileo is hailed as a pioneering researcher in the field of professional ethics; she authored the definitive text on the subject and played a leading role in the development of the professional code of ethics for practitioners.

As president of the World Federation of Music Therapy, she has addressed multicultural issues in music therapy practice in a variety of settings.

After coming to Temple in the late 1980s, she and colleague Ken Bruscia co-edited and wrote three books on music therapy education and training, expanded the department’s curriculum with courses on ethics and medical music therapy, and launched the Ph.D. program. She has authored numerous articles on how best to teach and prepare students for the profession.

“All of my work — the teaching, research, writing and presentations at conferences — is very interconnected,” Dileo said. “Part of my goal, and a great stimulus for my research and writing, is to develop teaching materials to advance the field.”

As director of the new Arts and Quality of Life Research Center at Temple, she convened the center’s inaugural conference earlier this spring for students, faculty and working professionals from such diverse disciplines as film, architecture, visual arts and dance, in addition to music.

But it is the time she spends working at an inpatient hospice with terminally ill patients and their families that Dileo especially cherishes. “To heal a family relationship with a song before a patient dies is the most beautiful thing I can do.”

- By Harriet Goodheart