Music Thanatology

Music Thanatology Training 

A professional subspecialty of Palliative Care, Music Thanatology is a musical/clinical modality utilizing harp and vocal music to lovingly serve the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the terminally ill or dying and their loved ones. The training in this program is designed to prepare students to meet the Standards and Competencies of the Music-Thanatology Association International (MTAI - www.mtai.org), the independent certification body for music-thanatology worldwide.

Music Thanatology Training is a two-year non-degree program comprised of over 500 contact hours that includes 19 didactic weekend intensives in Portland, Oregon and clinical internships.  Enrollment is by application only.

Clinical Internships:

Each student will complete a 324 hour internship that beings during the second term of the training. Internships sites will be in hospital and hospice settings, typically once a week for five hours. During this extended clinical experience students will work alongside an MTAI certified Music Thanatologist mentor. These internships, facilitated by the Cooperative Education Division (Co-op), total nine regular college credits. Through Co-op, students connect theory and practice, develop skills, expand career knowledge, and make contacts for the future. Work schedules and work sites vary. Students must pass a background check and drug screening, and have personal health insurance and current immunizations prior to the internship with a cost of up to $350 beyond training expenses. 

Academic Program: 

Our faculty consists of MTAI certified music-thanatologists, medical doctors, registered nurses, and other professionals who work closely with music-thanatologists. All aspects of the training are infused with a contemplative perspective to invite and encourage ongoing interior development. Each student is thus supported in deepening their personal and spiritual life.

Areas of study include, but are not limited to:

  • Anatomy of Religion and Ritual
  • Anatomy, Physiology & Medical Terminology
  • Anthroposophy
  • Ethics in Healthcare
  • Biology of Dying
  • Clinical Discussion
  • Contemplative Infusion
  • Contemplative Musicianship
  • Contemplative Word Study
  • Disease Processes
  • Establishing a Music-Thanatology Practice
  • Healing & Reorganizing Properties of Sound
  • History of Death & Dying in Western Culture
  • History of Music in Medicine
  • Clinical Internship
  • Contemplative Practices
  • Clinical Narrative
  • Vigil Setting
  • Modes & Neumes
  • Music Embodiment
  • Music-Thanatology in Diverse Cultures & Religions
  • Music-Thanatology Vigil as Ritual
  • Nature of Suffering
  • Palliative Medicine
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Phenomenology
  • Preparing Professional Presentations
  • Prescriptive Music Analysis
  • Prescriptive Musicianship
  • Professional/Academic Paper
  • Professional Relationships
  • Schola Cantorum
  • Spiritual Pain Assessment
  • Synchronizing Harp & Voice with Patient Respiration
  • Vital Signs

Students will have an opportunity to participate in annual concerts throughout the Pacific Northwest. These concerts are well-established and attract large audiences.

Admission to the program is by application (.pdf) or application (.doc) only.

For more information, please contact Barbara Cabot.


What is Music-Thanatology?

Music-thanatology is a professional field within the broader subspecialty of palliative care. It is a musical/clinical modality that unites music and medicine in end of life care. The music-thanatologist utilizes harp and voice at the bedside to lovingly serve the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of people who are terminally ill or dying, and their loved ones, with the prescriptive delivery of music. 

Prescriptively delivered music is live music that responds to the physiological/existential needs of the patient moment by moment. For example, by observing vital signs such as respirations, heart rate, and temperature, the music-thanatologist provides music that is tailored to each specific situation. The warmth of this living music can bring solace, dignity and grace to those nearing the ultimate journey at the end of life.

Prescriptively delivered music can help ease physical symptoms such as pain, restlessness, agitation, sleeplessness and labored breathing. It creates an atmosphere of serenity and comfort that can be profoundly soothing for those present. Difficult emotions such as anger, fear, sadness and grief can be relieved as listeners rest into a musical presence of beauty, intimacy and compassion.

Music-thanatology is not intended to entertain or distract the patient. Instead, it allows the patient to enter into the unbinding process of letting go in his or her own very personal way. It affords families a chance to be with their loved one in a very intimate yet safe atmosphere where words are not necessary, and words that are spoken come from deep within, supported by the music.

Since antiquity, music and medicine have a long tradition as allies in healing. Music-thanatology is a contemporary field rooted in that same tradition. It has developed through the foundational work of Therese Schroeder-Sheker. Today, music-thanatologists practice throughout the United States and in several other countries around the world.

As medical technology becomes more advanced it is recognized that there is suffering that eludes even the most sophisticated medical treatment. Many physicians and caregivers welcome music-thanatology vigils as an integral part of care that offers an opportunity to relieve suffering and provide comfort.

Current term class information.