Objective: Music therapy has experienced a rising demand as an adjunct therapy for symptom management among palliative care patients. We conducted a realist review of the literature to develop a greater understanding of how music therapy might benefit palliative care patients and the contextual mechanisms that promote or inhibit its successful implementation.
Method: We searched electronic databases (CINAHL, Embase, Medline, and PsychINFO) for literature containing information on music therapy for palliative care. In keeping with the realist approach, we examined all relevant literature to develop theories that could explain how music therapy works.
Results: A total of 51 articles were included in the review. Music therapy was found to have a therapeutic effect on the physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual suffering of palliative care patients. We also identified program mechanisms that help explain music therapy's therapeutic effects, along with facilitating contexts for implementation.
Significance of results: Music therapy may be an effective nonpharmacological approach to managing distressing symptoms in palliative care patients. The findings also suggest that group music therapy may be a cost-efficient and effective way to support staff caring for palliative care patients. We encourage others to continue developing the evidence base in order to expand our understanding of how music therapy works, with the aim of informing and improving the provision of music therapy for palliative care patients.
Keywords: Music therapy; Palliative care; Realist review.