SCU Alumna Finds Calling in Music Therapy and Hospice Care
Josephine Huynh ‘12 helps patients nearing death
By Ally O’Connor ‘20
Patients facing end of life issues often turn to palliative care and hospice to help with pain management and social support. One part of that support, music therapy, has become the specialty of Josephine Huynh ‘12 (Music and Psychology). After graduating from SCU, Huynh earned a master’s degree in Music Therapy from the University of the Pacific, and she now works as a licensed music therapist for Seasons Hospice and Palliative Care in Glendale.
Striving to make easier the lives of terminally-ill patients in nursing homes, Huynh sings, writes, and plays music with her patients. Some of the patients are alert and eager while others, many of whom struggle with Alzheimer’s and dementia, are silent when she first begins conversation. The most special moments, according to Huynh, occur when these silent or disengaged patients hear a familiar song and are brought back to themselves: “Sometimes, their eyes light up, and a once-quiet patient begins to sing with me. In my experience, music takes a lot of pressure off and helps people to open up.”
Licensed music therapists are important members of the hospice team, notes Jillian Hsin-Yi Lee, a hospice care consultant with Seasons Hospice. “Patients and family members often find [music therapy] helpful and connecting.” Susan Czark, a palliative care nurse with Palo Alto Medical Foundation, agrees, saying, “Music therapy is a wonderful way to support and help people nearing death. Music touches emotions and helps release feelings and memories. It even helps comatose patients.”
Lee also noted the work can be challenging and difficult. “Music therapists have to be brave.”
Lee recalled one case in which Huynh joined the family at this challenging time. “As the patient neared death, there was this awkward silence. No one knew what to do. Josephine helped by playing a religious song the patient loved. It helped with the transition.” A member of the patient’s family shared with Lee, “If ever there was a perfect death, this was it.”