Complementary Therapies: Soothing the Psyches, Emotions and Spirits of Terminally Ill Patients

Complementary TherapiesTerminally ill patients are people first.  When dealing with a terminal diagnosis, treating the psyche, emotions and spirit of the individual is just as important as addressing medical care needs. Complementary therapies such as music, massage and Reiki energy treatments can help hospice patients find refuge from the stresses of living with their illness and improve their physical well-being.

Music plays a significant role in the human experience and can become even more meaningful at the end of life. People find meaning and a sense of connection when experiencing music, regardless of their age, culture, personality, intellect or emotional or physical state. Music therapists facilitate this connection using a variety of individualized live music experiences. These may include singing and playing music for a patient and family, creating music together, pairing music with imagery for relaxation, and interpreting song lyrics and reminiscing.

Therapeutic music experiences:
• promote positive changes in mood
(decreasing feelings of anxiety and depression)
• decrease sensations of pain and discomfort
• reduce feelings of isolation
• encourage interaction with family
• improve overall sense of well-being

In music therapy sessions, the music is shared within the context of a supportive, therapeutic relationship. Even when patients are no longer conscious or communicating through words, patients are comforted and consoled by the therapeutic presence of the music.

For patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, music therapy has additional proven benefits. It can promote socialization, assist in memory recall and decrease agitated or restless behavior.

Music therapy helps patients express feelings and dreams, connect with others, resolve issues and recall the person they were before illness came into their lives. Music therapy also has tremendous power to bring families together and to offer comfort and sharing at life’s end.

Massage therapy in hospice care is the use of gentle, nurturing touch to complement the traditional means of coping with the multidimensional pain associated with terminal illness. Hospice massage therapists manipulate the soft tissue structures of the body through various techniques with the goals of:
• alleviating pain, stiffness and tension
• improving circulation
• relieving stress
• reducing edema or swelling
• improving sleep
• improving physical, mental and emotional well-being

Reiki (pronounced “ray-key”), is a Japanese word meaning universal life energy or the energy that surrounds all. In addition, there is natural life force energy within the body. It is believed that disruptions or imbalances in the flow of this energy correlate to illness and distress. Reiki utilizes specific techniques for restoring and balancing the body’s natural life force energy. It addresses both chronic and acute conditions by gently and powerfully promoting balance between all the body’s systems. It does not conflict with any medical treatment.

Reiki is holistic, natural and non-invasive. It can be received by the patient in any setting or in any position in which the patient is comfortable. The Reiki practitioner gently places his/her hands either above or lightly on the patient for several minutes at a time in order to energize and balance the body, mind and spirit. Some of the benefits of Reiki include:
• deep relaxation
• improved sleep
• pain relief
• reduced anxiety and depression
• heightened sense of well-being

Unfortunately, complementary therapies do not qualify for reimbursement from Medicare, Medicaid or some insurances, therefore not all hospice providers choose to or are able to offer these supplemental services. Here in Collier County, however, hospice patients can turn to Avow, their community-focused, non-profit hospice provider, for care plans that include these specialty services. Avow recognizes the unique benefits these therapies can offer hospice patients and includes board-certified music therapists, licensed massage therapists and Reiki practitioners on its Avow hospice care team.

If you would like to learn more about hospice care services at Avow, call 239-261-4404 or visit

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