Music Therapy Offers Comfort to the Terminally Ill

A new study emphasizes the positive effects of music therapy on patients with a terminal illness, most with cancer. Palliative care patients between the ages of 18-101, were enrolled in a three year study to determine the effect of music therapy. Healthcare providers have embraced music therapy as a source of solace and comfort to palliative patients and value its physical, spiritual and psychosocial benefits. The study was conducted by Sandi Curtis, a music therapy professor in the Concordia University Department of Creative Arts Therapies, along with the help of undergraduate music therapy students. “This project combined the talents and interests of violinists, violists and cellists with those of advanced student music therapists,” she said. “Our study showed how music therapy was effective in enhancing pain relief, comfort, relaxation, mood, confidence, resilience, life quality and well-being in patients.”

Curtis formed divided the students into teams of two, and had a music therapist oversee each team. “Student music therapists had an invaluable opportunity to make music with professional-calibre musicians,” said Curtis. “Symphony musicians had an opportunity to experience the transformative powers of music in a nonperformance setting and palliative care patients had access to music therapy services.”

Each patient in the study had a terminal illness and was given one music therapy session, lasting between 15 and 60 minutes. The therapy focused on four specific areas, relaxation, pain relief, mood and quality of life. The benefits were so significant in three patients, that the families of those patients requested the music therapy to be conducted during the patients’ final hours. “On two other occasions, because of the strong relationship established in prior music therapy sessions, the music therapy team was asked to perform at the patients’ funerals,” Curtis notes. Curtis hopes this research will expand the use of music therapy to a broader application. She is currently examining the effects of music therapy on children and women who have experienced violence.

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • ginny


    May 13th, 2011 at 4:21 AM

    When my son was sick when he was small, and I know that this is not on the same level as cancer, but many times the only thing that would soothe him was to listen to music. I think that there are probably many of us who have found this to be the case at some point in our lives. Music can relax or agitate and perhaps even heal. But no matter when it does it always strikes a nerve and is something that would be a shame not to have in our lives.

  • Emily


    May 13th, 2011 at 6:54 AM

    And I thought the mood uplifting ability of music was a great thing! This is what is so great about music. I also think that it is a medium that has not been used to it’s full potential up until now at least.

  • Emma


    May 14th, 2011 at 6:13 AM

    My sister had to go through chemo a few years ago and afterwards when she was so sick the only things that brought her any comfort was her music. Don’t underestimate the power of melody!



    May 15th, 2011 at 7:19 PM

    Although I love listening to music and different forms o it, I have a small query-What about all of the binaural waves CDs and DVDs that have flooded the market? Can they really help you soothe and feel calmer? If yes,then how do they actually do this?

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