Forever Arriving: The Path of Music Therapy Within Palliative Care Contexts

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Image of music therapist Dr. Amy Clements Cortes

The specialization of music therapy in palliative care was first introduced by Deborah Salmon at the Royal Victoria Hospital in the late 1970’s in Montreal Canada. Early in the 1980s, 40 music therapists from various parts of the globe gathered for a symposium on using music in end-of-life care in New York. This symposium sparked the beginnings of formal research and music therapy collaborations in Westernized countries with a focus on pain and symptom management. Descriptive articles were also emerging but quantitative research dominated the growing specialty. Since that time, music therapy in end-of-life has evolved considerably and continues to change in response to service users and the contexts in which they live and receive palliative and end-of-life care.

This presentation will briefly provide context on music therapy in end-of-life care to establish a foundation for the case examples of clinical work that will be shared from the experiences of two recently graduated professionals. These examples alongside personal reflections of the three presenters will provide insights into “a day in the life” of music therapists at different career stages and working in differing locations of Westernized end-of-life care. The voice of the service user which is often absent will be presented so as to further share a snapshot of common issues arising from those who are dying.

While the location of the examples from a Westernized healthcare system, attention will be paid to cultural humility and the reflection of how to expand service provision beyond a Western framework. Key Concepts that will be covered include:

  • Gathering and honoring the insights of the sick, dying, and the bereaved
  • Client and therapist relationships with death/dying
  • Common issues/themes: relationship completion, faith, feelings about the unknown, balancing pain and joy, holding space, bearing witness, creating a container
  • Family-centered music therapy
  • Interprofessional collaboration
  • Psychosocial health &  legacy work.

Learner Objectives

1. To appraise the foundation of the specialization of music therapy in end-of-life care and within the Western healthcare model.
V. Professional Development and Responsibilities: B 2,

2. To contrast the experiences of music therapists working in various palliative care contexts within a Western healthcare model
IV. Evaluation and Termination of Treatment: A: 2-3, 9

3. To describe case vignette examples characterized by a typical day in the presenter’s end of life work experiences.
III. Treatment Implementation and Documentation: A. Implementation, 1, 2 j,k o,x, bb, ll , 4f

4. To describe music therapy approaches in end of life care and deepen knowledge of life review, legacy work and self care tools.
III. Treatment Implementation and Documentation: D. Treatment Planning, 1, 3-11

5. To explore one’s own relationship to grief, death and dying
V. Professional Development and Responsibilities: A, 10-11


Presenter Biography

Amy Clements-Cortes, Ph.D., RP, MTA, MT-BC is Assistant Professor, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto; a credentialed Music Therapist, Registered Psychotherapist, and Managing Editor of the Music and Medicine journal.

Michaela Bekenn is a certified sound therapy, yoga, mindfulness practitioner, completing her Masters of Music Therapy at Wilfrid Laurier University with clinical placements in pediatric rehabilitation, oncology, and palliative care.

Reenie Perkovic is a songwriter and music educator, completing the Master of Music Therapy program at Wilfrid Laurier University, with clinical experience in LTC, palliative care, CCC, and mental health.