Music therapy as mental health treatment

Music therapy for the treatment of mental health issues seeks to address the physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of an individual or group. Methods of music therapy include listening to music, playing instruments, writing songs and collaboratively working with others to play together.

Music therapy is not specific for any social demographic group and can be helpful in restoring wellbeing for people of any age, with or without musical experience, for those with mental illness, or those who are altogether healthy.

The effect of music on the mind 

Music can soothe, pacify, distract from stress or pain, and alter moods and behaviours. The auditory experience of listening to music is a powerful technique in therapy, healthcare, and educational environments. We can all attest to feeling a certain way in the response to listening to music – certain tracks have the ability to make the same listener feel calm, or happy, or even sad.

Who is music therapy for? 

Musical interaction as a therapy can be particularly advantageous for those who struggle with more conventional means of communication and language exchange. For example, learning difficulties and/ or autism, those struggling with speech disorders or language barriers, those with dementia, physical disability, stroke survivors, brain injury patients, as well as mental illness or emotional trauma sufferers including depression, anxiety, grief, post-traumatic stress disorders or psychosis to name a few.

Music therapy to combat depression 

In a study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry (2011), 79 participants with depression diagnoses were tested to see if music therapy had an effect on their symptoms. 33 participants received music therapy along with standard psychotherapy, the rest of the group received standard therapy alone.

The participants receiving music therapy alongside the standard care showed a significantly greater improvement in their symptoms. Depression, anxiety and general functioning scores had all improved at the close of the three-month test period. 45% of people in the music therapy group responded to treatment, compared to 22% in the standard care group.

This evidence-based study shows that at least in the short-term music therapy has a profound effect on depression sufferers when used as a treatment alongside standard psychotherapy, and is a promising, pleasurable, and engaging option to consider when looking to improve mental health and emotional welfare.

The self and healthy relationships 

Music can be an enjoyable method of mental health treatment. It can evoke emotion and bring about opportunities to reflect on circumstances, relationships, a deeper sense of self and more. The positive effects of music therapy being an increase in confidence, motivation, self-esteem, reduction of isolation, a better ability to connect to others to sustain healthy relationships, combined with a stronger understanding of self and of self expression.

Music as identity

Certain tracks are chosen at particular events and moments (for example weddings, funerals, births) to strengthen meaning and reinforce a sense of identity; they make a statement of who we are and how we feel. Lyrics and melodies can be a particular factor in the selection of these, as they speak to us on a non-verbal and pre-verbal level; facilitating communication between people beyond the sole use of words.

Next time you are listening to your favourite pieces of music, take a moment to consider how it makes you feel, and the true value and importance of music in all of our day to day lives.

Written by Teresa Short