By Cathy Wong | About.com Guide | Updated June 12, 2012
Music therapy is a treatment method that involves using music to enhance health. There are many different approaches to music therapy, including creating music, listening to music, and talking about music.
Although music therapy is often used to promote mental and emotional health, it may also help improve quality of life for people coping with physical health conditions.
Uses for Music Therapy
Music therapy is often used to help treat the following conditions:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Parkinson’s disease
In addition, music therapy is sometimes used to enhance mood, reduce stress, and relieve pain.
What Does Music Therapy Involve?
A music therapy session may incorporate a number of different elements, such as making music, writing songs, or passively listening to music. While music therapists often aim to foster the patient’s emotional expression, there can be many other different goals in a music therapy session (including enhancement of quality of life for people dealing with illness).
Research shows that patients do not need to have any musical ability to benefit from music therapy.
Benefits of Music Therapy
Here’s a look at some key study findings on the health effects of music therapy:
1: Music Therapy and Depression
Music therapy may help some patients fight depression, according to a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2008. For the report, researchers sized up data from five previously published studies, four of which found that participants receiving music therapy were more likely to see a decrease in depression symptoms (compared to those who did not receive music therapy). According to the report’s authors, patients appeared to experience the greatest benefits when therapists used theory-based therapeutic techniques, such as painting to music and improvised singing.
2: Music Therapy and Stress
Music therapy may help ease stress for certain people. For instance, a 2008 study from the Journal of Clinical Nursing found that music therapy helped reduce stress during pregnancy. The study involved 236 healthy pregnant women, while the treatment entailed listening to a half-hour of soothing music twice daily for two weeks. Compared to a control group, the 116 study members who received music therapy showed significantly greater reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression.
In a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2009, investigators found that listening to music may also benefit patients who experience severe stress and anxiety associated with having coronary heart disease. The review included two studies on patients treated by trained music therapists. Results showed that music listening had a beneficial effect on blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and pain in people with coronary heart disease.
3: Music Therapy and Autism
Music therapy may help improve communication skills in children with autistic spectrum disorder, according to a report published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in 2006. However, the review’s authors note that the included studies were of “limited applicability to clinical practice” and that “more research is needed to examine whether the effects of music therapy are enduring.”
4: Music Therapy and Cancer
Research suggests that music therapy may offer a number of benefits for people coping with cancer. For instance, a 2011 study from Oncology Nursing Forum found that music therapy helped reduce anxiety in patients receiving radiation therapy, while a 1998 study from the same journal found that music therapy may ease nausea and vomiting resulting from high-dose chemotherapy.
5: Music Therapy and Pain
Music therapy may help reduce pain for people dealing with certain health problems. A 2011 study from Breast Cancer Research and Treatment, for example, found that music therapy may have both short- and long-term benefits on alleviating pain in breast cancer patients after undergoing mastectomy.
The study involved a total of 120 breast cancer patients who’d recently undergone surgical breast removal. Starting the day after surgery, 60 patients participated in music therapy while the other 60 patients received routine nursing care only. The study continued until the participants’ third admission to the hospital for chemotherapy. By the study’s end, members of the music therapy group showed a significantly greater decrease in pain (compared to those in the control group).
In addition, music therapy may reduce pain in burn patients, according to a 2010 study in the Journal of Burn Care and Research. Involving a total of 29 patients, the study found that music therapy also helped relieve anxiety and lessen muscle tension.
6: Music Therapy and Parkinson’s Disease
A small study published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2000 indicates that music therapy shows promise for people with Parkinson’s disease. For the study, 32 patients with Parkinson’s disease were assigned to three months of treatment with either music therapy (involving practices like choral singing and voice exercise) or physical therapy. Study results revealed that music therapy led to improvement in motor and behavioral functioning. Music therapy also appeared to improve quality of life.
Using Music Therapy for Health Purposes
If you’re considering the use of music therapy, consult your doctor about how to go about finding a qualified practitioner in your area. It should be noted that music therapy should not be used as a replacement for standard care in treatment of a chronic health problem.
Bradt J, Dileo C. “Music for stress and anxiety reduction in coronary heart disease patients.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 15;(2):CD006577.
Chang MY, Chen CH, Huang KF. “Effects of music therapy on psychological health of women during pregnancy.” J Clin Nurs. 2008 17(19):2580-7.
Ezzone S, Baker C, Rosselet R, Terepka E. “Music as an adjunct to antiemetic therapy.” Oncol Nurs Forum. 1998;25:1551-1556.
Gold C, Wigram T, Elefant C. “Music therapy for autistic spectrum disorder.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 19;(2):CD004381.
Li XM, Yan H, Zhou KN, Dang SN, Wang DL, Zhang YP. “Effects of music therapy on pain among female breast cancer patients after radical mastectomy: results from a randomized controlled trial.” Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2011 Jul;128(2):411-9.
Maratos AS, Gold C, Wang X, Crawford MJ. “Music therapy for depression.” Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008 23;(1):CD004517.
Pacchetti C, Mancini F, Aglieri R, Fundarò C, Martignoni E, Nappi G. “Active music therapy in Parkinson’s disease: an integrative method for motor and emotional rehabilitation.” Psychosom Med. 2000 May-Jun;62(3):386-93.
Smith M, Casey L, Johnson D, Gwede C, Riggin OZ. “Music as a therapeutic intervention for anxiety in patients receiving radiation therapy.” Oncol Nurs Forum. 2001 28(5):855-62.
Tan X, Yowler CJ, Super DM, Fratianne RB. “The efficacy of music therapy protocols for decreasing pain, anxiety, and muscle tension levels during burn dressing changes: a prospective randomized crossover trial.” J Burn Care Res. 2010 Jul-Aug;31(4):590-7