Music Therapy and End of Life Care
Music Therapy is the use of music to attain non-musical goals. Where a physical therapist will use balls and bars, I use music as my tool to facilitate change. The goals reached through music therapy are typically social, physical, or cognitive. Research in Music Therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas: increasing motivation and engagement in treatment, relaxation and pain management, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an expressive outlet.
Why is Music Therapy especially therapeutic at the ends of our lives?
Music is a very basic human response, spanning all degrees of ability. Music therapists are able to meet a client wherever he is and help him to grow from there.
Music forms the basis for some of our deepest feelings and most treasured memories. A trained, board certified music therapist works with clients to provide closure, build feelings of meaningfulness, and connect with their loved ones.
What goals can my loved one meet through Music Therapy?
Music therapy can be effective in addressing many typical end of life realities.
I've worked in end-of-life hospice care for three years. One patient, in her last days of life, was consumed by dementia. She did not remember her children and could do nothing to care for herself. In the six months I worked with her, one beautiful session stands out. I played a Johnny Cash song for her, and she immediately came into the present and told a story about being at a concert with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley, when she was 14 years old. Her son (who was present for this session) told me he had never heard this story and was delighted that he could be there to witness her moment of clarity. Many times, after a preferred piece of music was played, she would briefly show alertness and awareness of her surroundings and tell stories or speak with her children. After her death, the family asked me to play her favorite songs at her funeral. What an honor to play "Ring of Fire" for the her family and see their smiles at the memory of Mom at her best.
Quality of Life Improvement
Alleviates terminal agitation/restlessness
Planning memorial services with music
Leaving legacy through musical gifts (song collage, patient written songs, etc.)
Increased quality of life
Expression of feelings and emotions (both verbally and nonverbally)
Facilitate feelings of personal meaningfulness
Alleviation of terminal agitation/restlessness
Decrease emotional distress
Decrease feelings of isolation/rejection
Increase feelings of closeness, acceptance, and intimacy
Increase range of coping mechanisms
Gain a sense of spiritual support
Increase self esteem/self acceptance
Regain a sense of control
An individual’s growth through music therapy can improve the quality of life for the whole family. The shared, equalizing experience of making music together can improve family cohesiveness, support, and coping skills.
Decrease feelings of isolation
Assist family members/loved ones in their interaction with the patient
Provide bereavement follow up
How can I get started?
When you're ready, you can contact me to set up an appointment. Typically our first meeting is a no-cost consultation where we discuss your loved one's condition, the goals you'd like him or her to pursue through music therapy, and get a sense for who I am as a therapist.
If you're not ready to call yet, I've compiled much more information about Music Therapy that you can review from the navigation bar on the left. I'd recommend starting with What to Expect from a Music Therapist, and the more detailed Music Therapy and Hospice or Music Therapy and Alzheimer's pages.
Is There Research to Support Music Therapy for End of Life Care?
Yes! You can find extensive research through peer-reviewed journals. The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) maintains a research bibliography of select articles and publications for those interested in specific research examples. There are also two peer-reviewed journals within the profession: the Journal of Music Therapy, and Music Therapy Perspectives.