Why Music Therapy in Hospice?

By Jenica Taylor, SCMT, MT-BC
Board Certified Music Therapist
Hearts for Hospice

I love music therapy in hospice because it is a holistic approach at a time in life where sometimes the world seems to be falling apart. Every day and every session is different, and there is no simple guaranteed outcome – we are all individuals with unique needs. Research shows time and time again, that this patient-centered, non-invasive form of treatment can empower patients and families with a variety of the issues that arise at end-of-life. Here are four ways I see reasons music therapy fits into hospice:

  1. Music therapy provides pain relief and symptom management: Our bodies have physical responses to music. Catching yourself tapping your toe to your favorite song is a simple example of this. Music therapy harnesses this power of response to enhance the effectiveness of other medical treatments.
  2. Music therapy helps people connect: Disease can damage many of the ways we used to connect with our loved ones. Music therapy creates new opportunities to re-connect. Music therapists have the tools to create meaningful music experiences that allow people to spend time together without the restrictions of communication or physical setbacks.
  3. Music therapy can give voice where words fail: When faced with a life-limiting illness, emotions often run high. Feelings of anger, guilt, sorrow, forgiveness, and love, among others, can be hard to express. Music provides a safe space where these emotions can be felt, worked through, and communicated. Music also can say the things that are too difficult to put into words.
  4. Music therapy in bereavement: In addition to working through the emotions of grief and loss, legacy projects will provide a tangible piece of your loved one that can be held on to. Legacy projects can be anything from a personalized song written in a music therapy session, or recordings of your loved one’s favorite music.

I love the work I am able to do as a music therapist in helping patients and their families. A tender experience I hold dear to my heart is that of *Sara and Joe:

It was a warm spring afternoon. There I stood on the front porch waiting for the door to be opened and reveal the capacity in which I would be needed for the next portion of the afternoon. I had just finished meeting with the interdisciplinary team and received a doctor’s referral for a new patient who was expected to pass quickly. The sound of chattering voices in another room was present as I was ushered in to a modest room where Joe, an elderly man, who dealt with dementia, sat next to his beloved sweetheart’s fading body. I spoke with family members to learn more about what types of music were meaningful for his wife, Sara. I gently introduced the deep, rich tones of the guitar, followed by words of an old favorite song. Her breath became less labored with the music, and less frequent. Enveloped by loving family members and the invisible, yet tangible space created through the music, Sara took her last breath.

Family members quickly came in to say their goodbye’s to their mother and asked me to continue playing their requested songs as they sang along. Joe asked to be alone with Sara, and requested that I stay in the room and play a familiar love song. Sobs poured out of his heart as he kissed her forehead and her lips. As he turned, looking deeply into my eyes, a quiet but fervent “Thank you” was heard. I knew, despite the dementia that often rendered him unable to fully comprehend the reality in front of him, he understood what was happening. Joe was able to say goodbye, through a glimpse of peace.

*Names have been changed to protect PHI according to HIPAA regulations.

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For more information on our music therapy program, visit our website or call:

Hearts for Hospice
Salt Lake County: 801.288.0670
Utah County: 801.772.0243