Music Therapy for End-of-Life Care

September 15, 2014
Amy Clements-Cortes PhD MT-BC MT FAMI
Amy Clements-Cortes, PhD, MT-BC, MT, FAMI, is assistant professor, Music and Health Research Collaboratory, University of Toronto; music therapy instructor and graduate supervisor at Wilfrid Laurier University; Senior Music Therapist/Practice Advisor, Baycrest, Toronto; Past-President CAMT; and WFMT President.


This past week I had the honor to present and attend the 20th International Congress on Palliative Care in Montreal, Quebec. As a past presenter and congress attendee, I was enthusiastically aware of the remarkable presentations I would be privileged to attend. The conference featured speakers from a variety of disciplines, and welcomed papers in multiple categories including: aging and geriatrics; arts and humanities; bereavement, grief and loss; ethical issues; palliative care in long-term care facilities, and many more. 

One of the plenary speakers was Stephen Lewis, Distinguished Visiting Professor, Ryerson University (Toronto), Chair of the Board, Stephen Lewis Foundation, and Former UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, who spoke on “A Global Vision of Palliative Care – Looking Ahead." His talk was highly inspirational. It was a highlight of my congress attendance.

Of particular relevance to those working in long-term care was a pre-conference workshop organized by Tom A. Hutchinson, McGill Programs in Whole Person Care, Montréal, on “Whole Person Care for Persons with Cognitive Impairment”; and concurrent paper sessions featuring: “Interprofessional assessment of pain among long-term care patients with dementia”, by Kathryn Pfaff, University of Windsor and colleagues; and “Living Well with Dementia: Enhancing Dignity and Quality of Life, Using a Novel Intervention, Dignity Therapy” by Catriona McCaw from Scotland and colleagues. I was particularly touched and inspired by several presentations I attended on the environment in palliative care given by architects looking at how to design spaces for the dying.

I was pleased to present my research, “Final Songs: Facilitating Relationship Completion in Palliative Care through Music Therapy”; and “Music Therapy at End-of-Life: Pathways to Healing for Holocaust Survivors." The final songs presentation overviewed how music therapists use music to assist and enhance relationship completion at the end-of-life by presenting the research objectives, questions, method and results of a study on the experience of four dying persons and their significant relations, engaging in music therapy with the goal of facilitating relationship completion. An original song featured on the Episodes of Relationship Completion CD was shared. To listen to one of the songs visit

The Pathways presentation overviewed the potential and goals of music therapy and guided imagery and music at end-of-life with survivors of the Holocaust, through a presentation of two case studies focusing on processing loss, death and trauma. I was inspired by a conference attendee to sing one of the song compositions live at the event. To learn more about the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music visit

I encourage long-term care practitioners to view the program from this amazing learning experience.

I am so pleased to have attended and presented at this landmark event!