Music Therapy for Loss of Appetite, Nausea and Vomiting

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

Pilot study  on the clinical effect of yarrow liver compresses  
Liver compresses are commonly applied in integrative cancer treatment and are believed to have an energizing effect. A randomized pilot study was conducted to investigate the influence of yarrow liver compresses on the autonomic nervous system by analyzing heart rate variability in metastatic cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy and suffering from cancer-related fatigue. The study found that this application led to increased sympathetic activity during daytime in the intervention group, whereas in the control group, which did not receive any external application, increased parasympathetic activity. The study is open access:

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