Music is Person-centred

Why does music help in care?

Because it is person-centred.

Music appeals to our human sensibilities

  • Holds up personal values, beliefs
  • Playlists function as a personal diary
  • Strengthens identity in the midst of uncertainty

“Songs are our connections to life.  They connect us to our inner world; they bring us closer to others; they keep us company when we are alone.  They articulate our beliefs and reaffirm our values.  They arouse, they accompany and they release.  And as the years pass, our songs bear witness to our lives and give voice to our experiences.  They rekindle the past, reflect the present, and project the future.  Songs weave tales of our joys and sorrows; they express our dreams and disappointments, our fears and triumphs.  They are our musical diaries, our life stories.  They are the sounds of our development.” (Ken Bruscia, 1989)

Person-centered care is increasingly becoming the standard of care in hospitals, nursing homes, and communities around the world. Person-centered care requires caregivers to tailor treatment plans to the individual patient, rather than follow a prescriptive protocol that assumes a “one size fits all” approach to treatment. These individual treatment plans are based not just on a person’s physical diagnosis, but their values, their interests, their personalities, and their overall wishes for wellbeing. One way to get to know a person quickly, and deeply, is to ask about what music has been significant in their lives.

Dr. Harvey Chochinov, the founder of dignity therapy, says that an important question to ask a patient is “what do I need to know about you to provide you with the best care?” Similarly, when ask care receivers what music has been significant in their lives, we get a picture about their joys and losses, their culture and their communities, and their major milestones. We get a sense of their emotional landscape and language.

One of the simplest activities a person can engage with in music is to create playlists that reflect significant life events. Through assembling songs that have mattered to us through life’s transitions, we can express our identity and tell our life story. The playlist can become like a musical diary. It can reconnect us to our native language, our culture, and important memories that defined us. Similarly, these playlists can be used to accompany a person through the various practical stages of their care journey. Developing personalized playlists for procedures and treatments, care tasks and daily routines, can turn the most manualized intervention into a person-centered encounter.

Through the often harsh and uncertain journey through health care systems, having individualized music alongside of us can humanize the experience treatment and remind us of who we are. Through supporting a care receiver to connect to their true selves through their course of treatment, we promote their innate resilience to make important care decisions and to participate as fully as they can in their treatment.