Using music to ease life’s transitions and promote healing therapeutic music is played live and one-on-one to inspire reflection, comfort, healing, and a sense of refuge.
Inside a Therapeutic Music Session
At the start of each session, I introduce myself to the patient and do a check-in to see how they’re feeling. Then it’s time for them to lie back and relax. For the next 20-60 minutes, I play live music (both in-person and via Zoom using high-quality audio equipment).
During the session, I watch the patient closely and listen for any signals they may provide. Based on their feedback, I adjust the music I’m playing to nurture a positive response.
My instruments include singing bowls, the hand pan, piano, singing bowls, tuning forks, environmental recordings, and pure tone electronic pulses (Binaural Beat Frequencies).
My Journey to Practicing Therapeutic Music
For over 20 years, I have been involved with music as a keyboardist, producer, composer, and performer.
However, when I began regularly practicing meditation and Deep Listening, I started to notice the healing power of sound in my own life. That led me down a new path as a musician—one where I can use my musical skills to provide comfort to those in need.
Currently, I am a Student Music Practitioner in the Music for Healing and Transition Program (MHTP). In addition to my studies with MHTP, I hold certificates as a Deep Listening® Facilitator and in Music for Wellness from Berklee College of Music.
About the Music for Healing and Transition Program
The Music for Healing and Transition Program (MHTP) trains musicians to provide live acoustic music one-on-one at the bedside of patients who are ill and dying. MHTP’s goal is to use music to enhance the healing process or ease the transition from life to death.
As part of my studies with MHTP, I am offering my services as a Therapeutic Musician for free at hospitals, hospice centers, skilled nursing facilities, and other centers of healing.
Benefits of Therapeutic Music
According to the National Standards Board for Therapeutic Music, the benefits of therapeutic music can include, but are not limited to:
- Cultivating an inner sense of ease and calm
- Relieving anxiety
- Reducing stress and stabilizing blood pressure
- Augmenting pain management
- Augmenting pain management
- Facilitating communication between loved ones
- Stabilizing vital signs of acute patients
- Relieving body and mental tension
- Aiding mental focus for people with memory issues
- Distraction from current mental and physical discomfort
- Altering the sense of time
- Easing the transition during the final weeks, days, and hours of the dying process
A Brief History of Therapeutic Music
Modern therapeutic music got its start in the 1890s, when doctors at a London hospital began documenting the effects of live music on their patients. Elsewhere, in Russia, America, and France, doctors were also writing papers about the positive effect music had on their patients.
In the United States, therapeutic music became widespread after WWII. Musicians—some trained by the American Red Cross— would visit hospitals to play for veterans. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs officially supported the practice and even nominated a Chief of Music to promote its use.
The use of music for therapeutic purposes, however, dates back millennia.
Songs were central to many healing rituals performed by American Indian tribes. There are Old Testament Bible verses that refer to David using music as a healing tool for King Saul. Likewise, the ancient Greeks prescribed listening to different instruments to soothe the symptoms of mental tumult—flute for mania, dulcimer for depression.
What Science Says About Therapeutic Music
The use of therapeutic music in hospital settings is well-studied. Over and over, research has shown that the experience of listening to live music can reduce stress, help manage pain, and provide patients with a powerful—even spiritual—escape.
One recent study found that when live music was included as part of their treatment, patients in hospice care showed reduced anxiety, pain, and feelings of depression. In addition, their immediate need for opiates to manage pain decreased after a therapeutic music session.
Physicians, nurses, and other hospital staff also benefit. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020, therapeutic music was played remotely for Italian clinical staff who were treating COVID patients. After listening, they reported a decrease in fatigue, overwhelm, and grief.
For more information on these studies and others, visit MHTP’s website.