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A Palliative Holistic Approach to MND Using Music Therapy
  1. Dr Helen Mackinnon,
  2. Elizabeth (Liz) Upham
  1. Dr Helen Mackinnon initially trained in medicine and worked at Sobell House Hospice in Oxford before moving into general practice where she had a special interest in palliative care. She then trained in music therapy, counselling and bereavement and was working as a music therapist at St Michael’s Hospice in Hereford when she first met Elizabeth (Liz) Upham. Helen now works for the child bereavement charity Winston’s Wish as a senior practitioner in the Family Services Team and is the Clinical Services Development Leader. Helen is a member of the Palliative Care Bereavement Network and has a special interest in using music therapy techniques with bereaved children and young people. Elizabeth (Liz) Upham worked for 40 years as an occupational therapist and was a founder member of the Motor Neurone Disease Association. For the last 20 years of her working life she took a special interest in caring for people living with motor neurone disease in the community and worked as a counsellor for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Email: Dr Helen Mackinnon at Helenmack{at}


This article details the role of music therapy (MT) in the palliative care of a 66-year-old woman (Liz) living with severe disabilities caused by motor neurone disease. It forms part of a small but growing body of case-related evidence designed to support the use of MT in palliative care. It describes how music gave Liz a renewed sense of meaning, purpose, control and usefulness that she thought had been lost to her. Through MT Liz was able to manage some of her most frightening emotions and symptoms because she was able to use the music and her new found powers of composition to travel in her imagination to a place where her suffering did not exist. That, she said, enabled her to endure severe breathing difficulties and undergo necessary but frightening medical interventions. Liz renewed her interest in singing and, with the aid of the music therapist, was able to develop new compositional skills, such that her original compositions were performed as full choral works for her family and in public, which was a source of great exhilaration for her. Conflicts of interest: none

  • Holistic approach
  • Music therapy
  • Motor neurone disease
  • Palliative care

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