Alumna combines music therapy and spirituality for bereavement counseling

Molly Hicks, a 2011 music therapy alumna, has evolved her practice to personally connect with patients and utilize spirituality.

Hicks combines music and spirituality as a tool to address the physical and emotional needs of patients to better process their grief. | COURTESY / MOLLY HICKS

Updated 10/3 at 4:00 p.m.

Molly Hicks, a 2011 music therapy alumna, has practiced bereavement counseling and music therapy for more than a decade. But in an effort to further develop impactful relationships with her patients, she has started utilizing spirituality and conversing with clients to establish personal connections. 

“I felt like the spiritual component of end of life care really connected with who I am, and how I wanted kind of my life direction to go,” Hicks said. 

Hicks, a bereavement counselor for Penn Medicine Hospice, has watched the field of bereavement counseling evolve around her, prompting her to make changes, too. Now, Hicks applies a very unique approach to her practice, allowing herself to personally connect with clients by combining music and spirituality as a tool to address the physical and emotional needs of those processing grief. 

As a board-certified music therapist, Hicks uses various musical techniques, including music sessions for emotional expression, song analysis, music and lyric writing, use of instruments for self-expression and the crafting of personalized playlists to help patients cope with grief-related emotions, tailoring the approach to the individual’s readiness and preferences.

“In my own practice, and many of the practices of many of the colleagues I work with, there’s been a lot of unlearning that has happened, amongst us as clinicians where we learned that we can be more open, we can show our own humanity to our clients a bit more,” Hicks said. 

She extends her expertise in music and interest in spirituality to her work at Penn. The Penn Medicine Hospice proactively offers 12 free bereavement counseling sessions to grieving family members The program also utilizes chaplains in grief and hospice care to provide spiritual support. 

Patients often request Hicks to play religious hymns in hospice care, and becoming better equipped to assess spiritual patients is one of her focus areas.

“We’re really an ideal discipline to partner with the chaplains and helping to meet people’s spiritual needs at the end of life when they’re really asking big existential questions,” Hicks said. “Music can help support that and give a framework for that.”

Hicks uses this interdisciplinary knowledge to educate peers in her field. In 2021, she developed a training course for music therapy professionals and graduate students alongside Beth Toler, a reverend in Bethlehem Pennsylvania. Toler is a faculty member in clinical counseling and pastoral care at Moravian Theological Seminary. 

The course is based on the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education’s existing curriculum for Spiritually Integrated Psychotherapy, a spiritual mental health care educational program. 

Additionally, she has  helped teach the training course since September 2022 and will lead an upcoming class on Oct. 20 in Atlanta, Georgia. 

Hicks’ mentor and professor during her time at Temple, Darlene Brooks, professor and director of music therapy, recommended bereavement and end of life care as a career for Hicks, noting her ability to learn quickly and impact in her line of work, Brooks said. 

Since 2020, Hicks has worked with Alignment: Interfaith Contemplative Practices, a spiritual non-profit organization meant to bring together people of various faiths. Alignment’s director Margaret Somerville personally invited Hicks to join the board of directors in 2021 in addition to role as presenter of music. 

“When Molly leads sessions she is really, really powerful and has this powerful practice of incorporating people’s personal messages into her own music,”  Somerville said. 

Hicks also holds drop-in group Zoom sessions on Sundays for patients through Alignment.

A career in bereavement counseling can be considered difficult, as it often adds emotional burden. Going through grief personally while helping others process theirs can be overwhelming. 

Hicks processes her own thoughts by utilizing music and songwriting as a form of self-care and expression. Although Hicks hasn’t recorded an album, she does occasionally participate in live performances, usually in front of her congregation at the Quaker meeting house she frequents. 

Hicks’ ability to spread gratitude, spirituality and comfort through music has allowed many families and loved ones to find comfort in grief. Being able to persevere through the intense aspects of her job helped Hicks realize she’s well-suited for this practice, Hicks said. 

“My friends are really important to me, my family is extremely important to me, I find that working in end-of-life care means that I don’t take things for granted, I don’t take life for granted,” Hicks said. “I kind of can’t help but practice gratitude on a regular basis for everything that I have and for the difficult losses that I have been able to make it through.”


A previous version of this story mislabeled Molly Hicks’ title, misstated what institutions the Zoom drop-in sessions were from and who the training course was developed for. 

These changes are now reflected in the story’s updated version.

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