Music Therapy for Loss of Appetite, Nausea and Vomiting

Viola Heckel, Sebastian Weiss

Last update: 08.10.2018

Loss of appetite

The triad of possible effects of music therapy described in the section on “Artistic Therapies in Oncology”—physiological, mental, spiritual—can also be used to treat gastrointestinal symptoms and diseases. Through direct treatment and relief of physical symptoms, we stimulate an “easier” handling of physical symptoms (psychological aspect) and strengthen the person’s inner autonomy beyond the symptoms of their illness (spiritual aspect).


For recurring, non-acute nausea

  • receptive music therapy, played with pleasant enveloping sounds on an alto lyre—possibly supplemented by humming or singing.
    Music with clear rhythmic structures and downward melodic movements let the patient musically feel the ground under his feet again. The volume should not be too expressive, so that the patient is ensured inner space for listening.

If possible,

  • a sequence with active music therapy can follow, in which the patient interacts with the therapist in a calm, rhythmically flowing dialogue, using a drone lyre.
    Here, too, the tone sequences tend to be quiet and lead downwards. Directing the patient’s attention towards the active listening process and playing the instrument may be able to steer his body awareness away from the nausea.

  • Therapeutic singing exercises may also relieve nausea:
    Breath-deepening exercises and rhythmic exercises that swing through the abdominal region, e.g., with the resonant sounds “M” and “W”, can bring blocked energies back into flow.


Music therapy is not indicated for acute vomiting.

If there is a recurring tendency to vomit,

  • active listening as part of receptive music therapy can enable the patient to get hold of herself.
    Again, as with nausea (see above), fairly quiet music is indicated, calm and slow, and favoring downward tone sequences in its structure.

  • In active music therapy, deep gong sounds can be played from the surrounding area , followed by cymbal play via a rhythmic gesture of the arms moving between the center and the periphery. This can stimulate a resonant sound experience in the patient. It has a strengthening effect.

It is also possible to counter the tendency to vomit

  • by listening to deep, bowed tones in connection with experiencing vibration
    —e.g., the soles of the patient’s feet rest on the body of a tenor chrotta that is being played by the therapist—stimulating the warmth in the patient’s body and counteracting the tendency to vomit.

Research news

Mistletoe therapy in addition to standard immunotherapy in patients with non-small-cell lung cancer indicates improved survival rates 
Immunotherapy with PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors has significantly improved the survival rates of patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Results of a real-world data study (RWD) investigating the addition of Viscum album L. (VA) to chemotherapy have shown an association with improved survival in patients with NSCLC - regardless of age, degree of metastasis, performance status, lifestyle or oncological treatment. The mechanisms may include synergistic modulations of the immune response by PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors and VA. However, the results should be taken with caution due to the observational and non-randomised study design. The study has been published open access in Cancers

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