Music as a therapeutic tool in the hospital setting

Section: Editorial


Mª Jesús del Olmo Barros1 y Beatriz García-Castellano García2


1Doctora. Musicoterapeuta. Profesora Departamento Interfacultativo de Música, Facultad de Educación, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM). Directora del Máster de Musicoterapia, Facultad de Medicina, UAM.Email: mjesus.delolmo@uam.es2Máster. Musicoterapeuta. Presidenta de la Asociación MUTEP (Musicotanatología y Terapias de Prevención).

Sound stimulus is a unique element which connects human beings rapidly with their environment and emotions, regardless of the conditions, intelligence level and problems of each person (1). In our experience in the Hospital Universitario La Paz (Madrid), conducted for over a decade, we have confirmed that Music Therapy offers information about patient status to the medical and nursing teams, regarding the emotional status, level of pain and anxiety, psychological problems, etc., of those patients managed in the different units where Music Therapy sessions are conducted, both in paediatric patients (Oncology, Transplants, Neonatology, Intensive Care Unit, Surgery) and adult patients (Maternity, Palliative Care, Pain Unit, Intensive Care Unit). Following these initiatives, on 2017 a research project was started at the Hospital de Guadarrama (Madrid), in order to assess the impact of Music Therapy on the mood of those patients admitted to the Palliative Care Unit.

Music Therapy offers hospitalized patients the chance to translate their emotions through musical experience, alone or with their relatives, and at the same time it allows him/her to become aware of their emotional status. A vocal or instrumental improvisation offers major information about the patients’ general status and any support that can be provided to them. The evaluation of Music Therapy sessions offers information about what the patient feels and needs, both physically and emotionally, providing a way to classify pain into acute, mild, and continuous, as well as to determine its duration and intensity. This can help the Music Therapist and other professionals to better understand the perceptive and cognitive sensation that patients present at this time, regardless of their personal characteristics, and the way in which they internalize their condition and relate to it. For example, the response of children towards pain through music is direct and immediate, and this is a significant fact. “Intensity”, in terms of the strength with which a child plays a certain instrument while he/she is in pain, is a parameter that can be observed right away at the Music Therapy intervention. For example, if pain is severe, strong or weak, it is shown in the same way when banging a drum or any other percusion instrument with their fingers; it is even expressed vocally. Likewise, the experience in Hospital Music Therapy with adults has revealed therapeutic benefits, both physically and psychologically.

The approval of the Lannoye Report on March, 1997, by the European Parliament, regarding the status of natural medicines, opened the door to the acknowledgement and regulation of complementary therapies in Europe. On 2010, the European Union included in its budgets an item for research on Complementary and Alternative Medicine, leading to the CAMbrella Project (2). In Spain, given the proliferation and popularity of alternative therapies among the population, the Ministry of Health, Social Services and Equality published in 2011 the first document about the analysis of the situation of natural therapies, and laid the foundations to move forward towards the potential regulation of these therapies (3).

Music is the most complete expression of communication without words; therefore, the use of music as a tool for the communication and expression of feelings in hospitalized patients will awaken and strengthen the intrinsic skills of human beings for coping their disease. Music stimulates the senses, evokes feelings and emotions, facilitates physiological and mental responses, and activates body and mind. Music Therapy is an allied profession in the healthcare field that uses music and musical activities in order to treat persons with physical, psychological, cognitive, social and/or emotional needs. However, it has not been sufficiently acknowledged so as to be included within support therapies in the hospital setting, That is why both the Fundación Musicoterapia y Salud (Association for Music Therapy and Health) and the MUTEP Association (Association for Music Thanatology and Prevention Therapies) have been collaborating and actively working towards the promotion and acknowledgement of this profession.


  1. Del Olmo MJ, Rodríguez C, Ruza F. Music Therapy in the PICU: 0-to 6-Month-Old Babies. Music and Medicine. 2010; 2(3):158-66.
  2. Santos K, Vas J. CAMbrella. Una red europea de investigación en medicina complementaria y alternativa. Rev Int Acupuntura. 2011; 5: 130-4.
  3. Ministerio de Sanidad, Política Social e Igualdad. Análisis de las terapias naturales en España. Madrid: Gabinete de Prensa MSSSI; 2015. p. 22. [citado 2 abr 2018]. Disponible en: