Music Therapy

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is the use of music to address the needs of patients and families. A well-established healthcare profession, music therapy provides pain management and emotional and spiritual support for patients while supporting their families. Music therapy offers a compassionate and non-invasive approach to end-of-life care. It integrates patients’ musical preferences with their cultural background and spiritual beliefs to respect their dignity and celebrate their lives.

Why Music Therapy for Hospice and Palliative Care Patients and Families?

Clinical and empirical evidence in music therapy reports that it is effective for meeting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of patients and families. Music therapy is used to:

  • Reduce physical symptoms of pain, agitation and shortness of breath
  • Address and alleviate feelings of depression, fear, isolation, disorientation, confusion, anxiety, loss of control, loss of independence and loneliness
  • Support spiritual beliefs and practices
  • Improve quality of life 
  • Provide emotional support to families
  • Provide opportunities for meaningful interactions among family members
  • Provide respiratory entrainment and alleviation of anxiety during removal from ventilators
  • Leave a legacy
  • Inspire life review
  • Discover meaning from the dying process

What Happens During a Music Therapy Session?

A music therapist evaluates an individual’s needs and musical preferences in addition to his/her cultural background and spiritual beliefs. Patients are engaged in a therapeutic process that speaks to their unique needs and preferences. They may benefit from actively engaging in music therapy interventions such as song-writing, singing, music-making, improvisation, making musical choices or moving to music. Patients may also benefit by receiving the music through active music listening, music focused relaxation, music and imagery or live music entrainment. Music therapy provides actively dying patients and their families with music that supports a peaceful death. Music therapists are trained to use a variety of instruments depending on patients’ preferences and needs. These may include guitar, harp, keyboard, autoharp, dulcimer, tone chimes, tambourines, maracas, egg shakers and other rhythm instruments.

How Is Music Therapy Used with People Who Are Bereaved?

Music therapy provides an environment that helps promote understanding, healing and growth in the lives of those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. Music’s therapeutic work addresses the tasks of grief and loss, provides an opportunity to find meaning in the grief journey and honors the person who died. In the safe environment that music provides, the pain, sadness and anger that may accompany grief can be explored and expressed without fear of judgement. Through therapeutic exercises such as listening to music and analyzing lyrics, music therapy can help surviving family members understand and communicate the emotions they experience along the grief journey.


Hospice – Affirms life, but never denies death. Recognizes dying as a normal process of life. Honors wishes. Offers choices. Brings commitment and compassion. Strengthens families. Is about faith, hope and caring.

“We do not remember days, we remember moments.”

Cesar Pavese

“People die, but love does not die.
It is recycled from one heart,
from one life, to another.”

Harold S. Kushner