Turning toward dissonance: lessons from art, music, and literature

J Pain Symptom Manage. 2012 Feb;43(2):293-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2011.06.014.


Conflict and chaos are prevalent in health care, and perhaps especially in palliative care. Typically, our point of entry into our patients' lives is often at the moment of conflict, discord, or intense suffering. Despite this, little in our formal training as clinicians teaches us how to be present for this suffering. Much has been written about the process of communication with regard to giving bad news, handling family meeting conflicts, and negotiating shifting goals of care, but little has been addressed about how to train the clinician to be present with the dissonance and suffering. In this paper, we explore how music, art, and literature teach us how to stay in moments of tension. In turn, lessons on how to learn to lean into the dissonance of many palliative care encounters are extrapolated.

MeSH terms

  • Art*
  • Cognitive Dissonance*
  • Humans
  • Literature*
  • Meditation / psychology*
  • Music*
  • Palliative Care / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology