Music Therapy in

"End of Life Music Therapy" is the use of music therapy strategies to bring comfort to those with life-limiting illnesses. Robert Krout, PhD, MT-BC, head of the Music Therapy Department at Southern Methodist University, has provided the following information:

Reasons to Use Music in End of Life Hospice and Palliative Settings

Music therapy treats the whole person, not just the disease. Patients with a terminal illness may have been treated by the medical community as their disease rather than as their whole selves (e.g. "Room 101 with colon cancer" rather than "Mr. Jones in room 101, a 48-year old husband and father of three who also has cancer of the colon"). Favorite music can express a person's individuality, and the "music history" of any person can be a way of reviewing special events in one's life.

Music therapy can help decrease pain perception and provide distraction from pain and discomfort. Included in many music and music therapy experiences with persons who are dying is a focus on active and/or passive music listening to reduce pain perception and provide comfort. Such music can be selected by the therapist or the patient, and can include both live and prerecorded vocal and instrumental selections.

Example: A patient listens to the therapist playing gentle chords on the guitar, focusing on the pleasant sound and steady beat while becoming less aware of pain that may be accompanying the illness; pain which may be difficult to manage with medication

Music therapy can increase verbalizations about illness and the expression of feelings -- through (for example) listening, singing, and talking about the lyrics for chosen songs. Songwriting, as an effective means for emotional expression, has been described in a number of research studies.

Example: A man with terminal cancer has told the therapist "I just don't feel any emotions anymore -- it's like my feelings are numb." The therapist asks the man for a title of a song that is meaningful for him. As the therapist plays and sings the song, the man begins to cry. The therapist asks "Is it okay to keep playing?" The man replies "Yes, yes - I've needed to cry for a long time now." The music has elicited this "feeling" response.

Music therapy can assist loved ones with issues regarding and relating to the patient, and help the patient work through issues relating to their illness and dying process. Music therapy sessions can involve the patient and the family and loved ones together.

Example: With the patient and family together in the home (where the patient is receiving hospice care), the therapist suggests that they re-write a popular song about some of the challenges they are facing. The patient and family select the Beatles' "We can Work it Out." The therapist takes notes as the family shares what challenges they are dealing with, and helps the family put these words in a format that can be sung to the original melody. Later, the therapist records the song on a CD, with the family, patient, and therapist singing together as the therapist accompanies on guitar.

Songs for Sorrow, Songs for Joy, Robert Krout's book of music
based on his many years of work in hospice and palliative care, is available
through Prelude. Click here for our product list.

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