Music Therapy For Grief And Loss

  • Kishauna Griffiths MSc in Clinical Pharmacology, University of Glasgow
  • Regina Lopes Senior Nursing Assistant, Health and Social Care, The Open University

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Introduction

What is music therapy? 

The British Association of Music Therapy defined music therapy as “an established psychological clinical intervention, delivered by HCPC registered music therapists, to help people whose lives have been affected by injury, illness or disability through supporting their psychological, emotional, cognitive, physical, communicative and social needs.”1 This simply means that music therapy is an evidence-based field whose effectiveness has been proven through research. It also states the wide array of applications usually administered by registered professionals. In this article, we will be exploring the application of music therapy for the management of grief and loss and its comparative advantage.

Types of music therapy for the bereaved and grieving 

Different music therapy approaches have been applied to help the bereaved and grieving, some of which include;2,3

Passive music listening 

This has been found to help with improving the mood of the individual and enhance one's coping mechanism. It was found amongst research participants that music that differed from their current mood helped change their mood to the vibe of the music, while music that mirrored their experience, in this case, grief, helped them find validation through the lyrics and enhanced their coping mechanism.

Active music listening and discussion 

In this case, the music is selected, and individuals engage in a meaningful interaction with the music. Reminiscing on the moments the music evokes and discussing any outcome that is important to them with the music therapist. It also serves as an outlet for the emotions of the bereaved individual in lyrics they can relate to, which otherwise might not find expression in normal speech.  

Songwriting 

This helps with externalising thoughts and memories. Utilising fill-in-the-blank songwriting has utility in providing cues for a more effortless expression.

Clinical improvisation  

This involves the spontaneous creation of sound and music. It helps in the release of emotions through music. This is comparable to spontaneously crying because of pent-up emotion, but in this case, crying is substituted with spontaneous music-making. 

Instrument playing 

This involves playing one of the many musical instruments used for music therapy, including the drums and maracas, in a structured way or improvisation as directed by a music therapist. 

Singing 

Singing can trigger the release of endorphins and serve as an additional form of self-expression.

Role of music therapy in grief5,6

Confronting and navigating the complexities of grief

Emotional exploration

Music therapy aids patients in confronting the pain of grief by facilitating a journey into their emotions. Through carefully selected music, individuals can explore and connect with their feelings, providing a safe space for emotional expression and acknowledgement.

Heartful connection 

Music serves as a profound bridge to the heart, allowing patients to establish a meaningful connection with their inner selves. This connection acts as a therapeutic channel, enabling individuals to delve into their emotions without overwhelming pain, fostering a healing process.

Avoidance of overwhelming pain 

The therapeutic use of music provides a gentle approach to grief, allowing individuals to navigate their pain without becoming overwhelmed. This avoidance of intense distress creates a supportive environment for patients to process their grief in manageable increments. 

Musical expression of grief 

Music therapy encourages the creation of personalised, musical expressions to convey the complex experience of grief. This creative outlet empowers patients to externalise and communicate their emotions through the medium of music.

Experiencing pain in grief 

Music therapy acknowledges and validates the pain inherent in the grieving process. By engaging with music that resonates with their emotions, individuals can authentically experience and process the pain associated with loss.  

Adapting to the loss

Being in the moment 

Music therapy aids individuals in adapting to loss by fostering a mindful presence. Engaging with music provides a moment-by-moment way for individuals to navigate their grief journey more effectively.

Entertainment and comfort in times of solitude 

Music serves as both entertainment and a source of comfort during silent moments. It offers solace, becoming a companion in times of solitude, helping individuals find solace and connection.

Inspiring hope 

Through carefully curated musical experiences, music therapy inspires hope in individuals grappling with loss. The emotional resonance of music becomes a beacon of positivity, instilling a sense of optimism.

Learning new habits as distraction 

Music therapy introduces the opportunity to cultivate new habits, acting as a distraction from the overwhelming nature of grief. Learning and engaging with music becomes a constructive outlet for redirection.

Socialising at music events 

Participating in music events within a therapeutic context provides a platform for socialisation. Shared musical experiences facilitate connections, offering a supportive community for those navigating grief.

Filling the void in silence 

When silence becomes challenging to tolerate; music fills the void, providing a comforting and soothing backdrop. It becomes a therapeutic tool to navigate moments of quiet reflection and emotional processing

Shifting energy and spiritual connection 

Music therapy contributes to shifting a person's energy to a more positive one, creating a positive impact on emotional well-being. Additionally, it enables a profound connection with one's spirituality, helping with access to spiritual support, and offering a holistic approach to coping and relaxation.

Continue the bond with the deceased

Reference to music therapy during the dying process 

The incorporation of music into end-of-life care contributes to the creation of meaningful experiences, enhancing the connection between individuals and their loved ones during this profound stage, which can be referenced for a continued bond with the deceased.

Reminiscing 

Music therapy aids individuals in the process of reminiscing, providing a platform to revisit shared moments and memories with the deceased. Through carefully chosen music, individuals can evoke and relive significant experiences, strengthening the emotional ties that persist beyond physical presence.

Music as a way to connect to the deceased 

Utilising music as a means of connection, music therapy serves as a bridge to the deceased. The emotional resonance of music creates a unique pathway for individuals to feel the presence of their loved ones, fostering a sense of ongoing connection and support.

Choosing the right music therapy 

Grieving individuals, amidst emotional turmoil, will benefit significantly from seeking the expertise of a music therapist. With the number of music therapy approaches available, it is beneficial to engage music professionals to negotiate these options. A skilled music therapist aids in selecting the most suitable therapy tailored to the individual's needs, considering their emotional state.

Moreover, the therapist plays a vital role in providing accountability throughout the therapeutic journey. This involves guiding and tracking the healing progress, ensuring that the chosen therapy aligns with the individual's goals. By collaborating with a music therapist, grieving individuals can enhance their therapeutic experience, fostering a more effective and personalised healing process.

Summary

Music is a beautiful, irresistible form of entertainment when done well, which is why we listen to its melodies in the first place. From this article, however, we have seen how it goes beyond its primary role as a source of entertainment to emerging as an evidence-based healing tool for the bereaved navigating the difficult path of grief. Its subtle yet impactful role contributes to making the grief experience more bearable, emphasising the positive influence of music on emotional well-being. The versatility of music therapy in bereavement proves to be a profound and multifaceted support, showcasing its ability to comfort, uplift, and accompany individuals on their healing journey.

References

  1. BAMT - British Association of Music Therapy. BAMT - British Association of Music Therapy [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 10]. Available from: https://www.bamt.org
  2. Parkinson M. Wellington Music Therapy. 2020 [cited 2024 Feb 9]. Music therapy and bereavement support. Available from: https://wellingtonmusictherapyservices.com/music-therapy-and-bereavement-support/
  3. Stewart J, Garrido S, Hense C, McFerran K. Music use for mood regulation: self-awareness and conscious listening choices in young people with tendencies to depression. Frontiers in Psychology [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2024 Feb 10];10. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/journals/psychology/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01199
  4. Erkkilä J, Gold C, Fachner J, Ala-Ruona E, Punkanen M, Vanhala M. The effect of improvisational music therapy on the treatment of depression: protocol for a randomised controlled trial. BMC Psychiatry [Internet]. 2008 Jun 28 [cited 2024 Feb 10];8(1):50. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-244X-8-50
  5. Patrick DiMaio L, Economos A. Exploring the role of music in grief. Bereavement Care [Internet]. 2017 May 4 [cited 2024 Feb 10];36(2):65–74. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02682621.2017.1348585
  6. McCurry SLF, Dawson RM, Heiney SP. Essential elements of song for grieving young adults. Create Nurs [Internet]. 2019 Nov 1 [cited 2024 Feb 10];25(4):302–7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7179368/

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