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Hospice Music Therapy

Senior man wearing headphones, eyes closed, close-up

Quick Links: Music Play List

The traditional hospice team includes healthcare professionals from numerous disciplines, volunteers, and complementary therapists who provide supportive care and comfort through natural approaches. One of these approaches is using music therapy in hospice care.

By definition, music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music by a board-certified music therapist (MT-BC) to meet individuals’ physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. In practice, music therapy in hospice has been shown to accomplish a number of goals, including the following:

What are the Benefits of Music Therapy in Hospice Care?

  • Pain management
  • Anxiety reduction
  • Expression of emotions (verbally and non-verbally)
  • Processing grief-related feelings and experiences
  • Increasing feelings of meaning/purpose
  • Improving comfort
  • Fostering a sense of resilience
  • Providing a normative experience
  • Increasing opportunities for meaningful socialization
  • Increasing feelings of closeness, acceptance, and intimacy
  • Resolving family conflict/relational stress
  • Increasing self-esteem/self-acceptance
  • Increasing range of coping mechanisms
  • Enhancing quality of life
  • Gaining a sense of spiritual support
  • Fostering meaningful sensory engagement
  • Creating positive memories at the end of life

A donation to Samaritan can help provide Music Therapy for those who could benefit from it.
Click HERE to contribute.

Music Therapy Playlist

Meet Samaritan Board-certified Music Therapist Sara Kuhlen, MA. Learn about the benefits of music therapy and the power of singing. Sing along to some of her most-requested hymns and American folk and patriotic songs. Also enjoy songs for relaxation and meditation.


Music therapy in hospice

Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things. Tom Petty

Application for Music Therapy in Hospice

The above-mentioned hospice care goals are accomplished in music therapy through the relationships that develop between the patient/family, the music therapist and the music. Music therapy at Samaritan Hospice weaves together each patient/family’s individual goals and objectives with their unique personal music history and preferences, designing a course of therapy which utilizes primarily live music (including guitar, piano, voice, and/or various percussion instruments) as well as receptive/listening-based interventions during music therapy sessions. Music therapy experiences within hospice care may include any of the following:

  • Singing songs: any combination of music therapist, patient, or family singing preferred, familiar songs as a means to reminisce and validate patient’s life history, and as a normalizing experience for patients/families in the present

(pictured) Although her illness relegated her body nearly immobile throughout her hospice stay, during every music therapy session up until the week that she died, Karen would sing and do slow, but certain, signature Supreme’s dance moves to her favorite Motown songs. She is pictured here with Samaritan RN and fellow “Supreme’s dancer,” Roni Mongtomery, “stopping in the name of love” during a music therapy session. Karen’s love for actively engaging in music and her zest for life truly transcended her disease.

  • Music-assisted relaxation: providing individualized live or recorded music with guided discussion, imagery, or mantras to help patients decrease pain, anxiety, or discomfort
  • Song lyric discussion: listening to and analyzing live or recorded music as a means of identifying, relating to, and processing patient and family grief-related emotions and experiences
  • Instrumental improvisation: playing rhythmic or melodic instruments with music therapist or family as a non-verbal means to identify, express, and validate emotions. Outside of the hospice care setting, this form of music therapy is often utilized when helping children identify and express emotions
  • Songwriting and composition: working with music therapist to give voice to feelings or experiences related to hospice journey by writing original song(s) containing lyrics, acoustic, and/or virtual instruments
  • Song parody: re-writing portions of a known song to reflect and express a patient’s and families’ own emotions and experiences
  • Music legacy projects: Creating a CD of songs that have been important to patient, have accompanied significant life milestones, or are dedications to loved ones. The CD’s are often given to family and friends, creating a lasting and meaningful connection both before and after death
  • Planning music for funeral or memorial service
  • Procedural support music therapy: providing live music to help refocus patient’s and/or families’ awareness from potentially stressful or painful procedures such as wound care

Please check with your hospice team to find out if you or your loved one is eligible for music therapy. Music therapy is offered in select hospice care locations.

About Our Music Therapists

Sara Joy Kuhlen, MA, MT-BC received her bachelor’s degree in music therapy from Mansfield University in 2005, and master’s in creative arts therapies (music concentration) from Drexel University in 2013. She has worked in correctional mental health for over a decade in the state prison system, completed a graduate level internship at A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children, and has been with Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice since June 2018.

Sara particularly enjoys learning about how music has touched the lives of her patients and their family members, and singing songs that have been particularly meaningful for them. She feels especially honored to be welcomed into the homes and residences of her patients at such a vulnerable time. In her personal life, Sara is passionate about utilizing music and sound for wellness, and plays crystal singing bowls during group meditations. She also enjoys making up silly songs with her two young children.