Music Therapy and Spiritual Care in End-of-Life: A Qualitative Inquiry into Ethics and Training Issues Identified by Chaplains and Music Therapists

J Music Ther. 2016 Winter;53(4):309-335. doi: 10.1093/jmt/thw009. Epub 2016 Jun 28.


Background: Music therapists are increasingly employed by hospices. As such, they are often called upon to provide additional spiritual care to patients receiving end-of-life care. However, researchers have not yet examined the appropriateness of music therapists providing spiritual care as part of the hospice team, or ethics and training issues related to music therapist-led spiritual care.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to explore the thoughts and attitudes of hospice chaplains and music therapists (MTs) about ethics and training issues related to music therapists providing spiritual care as part of the hospice interdisciplinary team.

Methods: The study used semi-structured interviews with a purposive sample of music therapists and chaplains specializing in hospice care as part of a larger exploratory mixed methods study. Each interview was recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using a two-step process including both a modified phenomenological inductive approach and thematic analysis.

Results: Participants discussed ethics and training issues related to the provision of music therapist-led spiritual care as part of the hospice team. These issues included scope of practice, cultural competence and maintaining personal boundaries, and spiritual care training topics such as educational content and educational methods.

Conclusions: While it was clear that both chaplains and music therapists felt it was appropriate for music therapists to provide spiritual care as part of the hospice team, there is a need for formal and informal spiritual care training for music therapists doing this type of work. Training should potentially include information about comparative religions, cultural competence, scope of practice, and maintaining personal boundaries.

Keywords: ethics; hospice; interdisciplinary team; qualitative research; spiritual care; training.

MeSH terms

  • Clergy*
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Hospice Care* / ethics
  • Hospices
  • Humans
  • Interdisciplinary Studies
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Music
  • Music Therapy / methods*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Care Team / ethics*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Spirituality*
  • Terminal Care* / ethics