"Therapy that feels like therapy is BAD therapy." This is a quote from Jenna Justice, MM, HPMT, MT-BC. It's one of the many things that I learned from her over the past several years while earning my own HPMT (Hospice and Palliative Care Music Therapist) certification. As I meet with hospice patients and their families, I am constantly reminded of that quote because music therapy doesn’t feel like therapy, and that's one of the reasons it's so great.
I was in a situation recently with a patient, her friend, and her daughter. During the session we worked on many different care plan goals without anyone (other than myself) realizing what was transpiring.
When I arrived, the patient was sitting quietly alone in bed. She seemed very glad to see me as evidenced by her broad smile. She immediately chose songs of faith that had great meaning to her and after each song participated in analyzing the lyrics to the song and the history the songs had for her personally. She accepted small shaker instruments, raising them above her head and making beautiful music. Her friend arrived shortly and participated in reminiscing with the patient. The friend also chose songs and became very tearful at one point thinking about their long friendship coming to a close. The patient's daughter arrived and joined in, singing along and laughing with her mother.
Basically, we had a very successful session during which the patient's mood was elevated, she actively participated through singing and instrument-play, which allowed for some range of motion and increased breath support, she participated in lyric analysis in relation to her faith and her beliefs about the after-life, she reminisced with her friend and her daughter, she witnessed the emotion of her friend as the friend experienced anticipatory grief in a safe place, and she interacted positively with both of them creating treasured memories for all.
When I was leaving, the daughter asked me if hospice needed any more music therapists. As I invited her to tell me more about her inquiry, I realized that she wanted to be a music therapist – she's a musician with a broad repertoire and wanted to just quit her job and come to work for hospice. I explained that music therapists have degrees, complete a 6-month internship, and sit for a nationally accredited board certification exam before working in the field. We talked about some of the clinical aspects of the session. The daughter was quite impressed and hadn't realized all that went into the good feeling that she was left with.
The therapy didn't feel like therapy at all!
I feel so fortunate to have music as my medium when working with folks at the end of their lives. It's such a vulnerable time, and music can touch them in ways that nothing else can. It's a privilege to be with each patient in this way – doing therapy that doesn't feel like therapy at all!