Grief and Music Therapy: Finding Comfort in Melodies

Music has a unique power to soothe, uplift and express that which words cannot. During grief, music can be a powerful therapeutic tool to help us connect with emotions and start healing. Learn how music therapy is used to provide comfort, coping and community after a loss.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: Oct 27, 2023
3 min read
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Why Music Speaks to Grief

Grief is often dominated by pain, anxiety, anger and profound sadness. Finding healthy ways to process this intense emotional turmoil is critical. Music therapy helps mourners to:

  • Safely engage with the strong emotions of loss
  • Release tension, frustration, guilt or fear
  • Find words for inexpressible heartache
  • Honor and remember the deceased
  • Regain hope and meaning after tragedy

The rhythms, tones and lyrics of music reflect back the complex world of feelings inside us. Listening, singing along or playing an instrument channels grief into a creative act.

Therapeutic Use of Music

There are many ways music therapy can help at different stages of bereavement:

Funerals and Memorials

Live music or favorite songs of the deceased provide continuity, comfort and beauty during remembrance ceremonies. Familiar hymns unite voices in song.

Support Groups

Music activities facilitate connections in bereavement groups. Drum circles allow mourners to release anger/pain through rhythm. Singing songs related to loss fosters support.

Guided Listening

Therapists curate playlists to match the grieving person’s emotional needs, like calming songs to reduce anxiety or cathartic melodies to surface sadness.

Lyric Analysis

Discussing themes in grief-related song lyrics validates feelings and builds insight into the mourner’s struggles.

Songwriting

Composing original songs, poems or raps about loss helps express emotions and reauthor the bereavement narrative.

Active Music-Making

Playing an instrument elicits sensory experiences that enhance wellbeing. The creative process absorbs attention and provides respite from grief.

Music Therapy Methods

Board-certified music therapists assess needs and facilitate sessions using techniques like:

  • Receptive listening – Curating prescribed playlists to enhance relaxation, provide solace or complement reminiscence.
  • Songwriting – Creating lyrics and music to honor loved ones and communicate grief experiences.
  • Improvisation – Using voice and instruments to freely express emotions in a safe environment.
  • Lyric analysis – Discussing themes in existing songs and how they relate to the mourner’s journey.
  • Life review – Using meaningful music from the past to elicit memories and process the relationship with the deceased.
  • Performance – Singing or playing music at ceremonies or volunteer performances to reconnect with community.

Benefits of Music Therapy

Research shows music therapy helps bereaved individuals by:

  • Reducing depression, trauma and anxiety symptoms
  • Facilitating the expression of grief-related feelings
  • Sparking memories of deceased loved ones
  • Fostering family bonds and social connectedness
  • Providing opportunities for creativity and self-expression
  • Promoting relaxation and managing stress
  • Allowing safe exploration of loss-related growth and meaning

While music can be incorporated informally into grief self-care, working with a certified therapist ensures activities match your emotional needs and personality. They can also help manage any negative responses triggered by certain songs.

Accessing Music Therapy Support

Music therapy is provided in many hospice, hospital, counseling and senior living environments. Medicare and some private insurances cover sessions with board-certified music therapists.

To find a qualified therapist in your area, search the American Music Therapy Association’s provider directory online. Many music therapists also offer remote telehealth sessions via video chat. Seek referrals from your hospice organization, oncologist or counseling support group.

Music has a timeless capacity to comfort human sorrow. Let it support you on the grieving path ahead, step by gentle step.