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‘Song of Life’: music therapy in terminally ill patients with cancer
  1. Marco Warth1,2,
  2. Jens Kessler1,
  3. Josien van Kampen3,
  4. Beate Ditzen2 and
  5. Hubert J Bardenheuer1
  1. 1Center of Pain Therapy and Palliative Care Medicine, Department of Anesthesiology, University Hospital Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany
  2. 2Institute of Medical Psychology, Center for Psychosocial Medicine, University Hospital Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany
  3. 3Faculty of Therapeutic Sciences, SRH University Heidelberg, Heidelberg, Germany
  1. Correspondence to Dr Marco Warth, Department of Anesthesiology, Center of Pain Therapy and Palliative Care Medicine, University Hospital Heidelberg, Heidelberg 69120, Germany; marco.warth{at}


Objectives Music therapy (MT) holds a promising potential to meet emotional and existential needs in palliative care patients. The aim of the present pilot study was to assess the feasibility, acceptance and potential effectiveness of a novel MT intervention to improve life closure and spiritual well-being of terminally ill patients with cancer receiving palliative care.

Methods The ‘Song of Life’ (SOL) intervention was provided on two consecutive sessions containing a biographical interview and a live performance of a song with high biographical relevance to the patient in a lullaby style. Pre-to-post intervention assessments comprised brief self-report measures on life closure, well-being, stress, worry and pain.

Results 13 out of 15 patients were able to complete the protocol as intended. The chosen songs were associated with a close person, an important place or event or with a religious belief. The results showed medium-sized improvements with regard to life closure, well-being, relaxation, worry and pain.

Conclusion ‘SOL’ proved to be a feasible and highly accepted intervention for patients approaching the end of their lives. Further consideration with regard to the procedures and outcomes is necessary before implementation of a randomised trial.

  • cancer
  • music therapy
  • palliative care
  • quality of life
  • life closure
  • existential distress

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  • Contributors MW, JK and JvK wrote the manuscript. BD and HJB critically revised all versions. MW and JvK planned the design of this study. JK and HJB provided the infrastructure to conduct the assessments and interventions.

  • Funding This pilot study received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors. A planned clinical trial on the "Song of Life" intervention receives funding by "H.W. & J. Hector Stiftung" and "Sonnen-Blau. Gemeinnützige Morgott-Schupp-Stiftung für frühkindliche Erziehung und Palliativversorgung".

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Other consent form obtained by patients.

  • Ethics approval The study was approved by the ethics committee of the Medical Faculty Heidelberg.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.