An abstract brain on music

Exploring the Role of Music Therapy in Mental Health and Society

All of us are aware of the term “music”, but did you know that melodious sounds can heal a person? Music therapy is an ever-growing concept that can facilitate healing. Mainly, it is a therapeutic approach that uses the natural mood-lifting properties of music. Furthermore, it helps people improve their mental health and overall well-being.

It’s a goal-oriented intervention that seeks to soothe and transform our moods. Music therapy involves formulating music, writing songs, singing, dancing, listening, and discussing music. In particular, this form of treatment may be helpful for people with depression and anxiety. Additionally, it may help improve the quality of life for people with physical health problems. Most importantly, anyone can engage in music therapy; you don’t need a background in music to experience its beneficial effects.

Scientific Definition of Music Therapy

Scientifically speaking, music therapy is the clinical & evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship. Mainly, performed by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music therapy interventions can address a variety of healthcare & educational goals. Such as promoting wellness, managing stress, alleviating pain, expressing feelings, enhancing memories, improving communication, and promoting physical rehabilitation.

Music therapy—a type of expressive arts therapy. It uses music to improve and maintain the physical, psychological, and social well-being of individuals. Furthermore, it involves a broad range of activities, such as listening to music, singing, and playing a musical instrument.

Generally, this type of therapy is done by a therapist who goes through extensive training. Consequently, it is often made use of in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, correctional facilities, nursing homes, and hospices.

History of Music Therapy

Music has been a therapeutic tool for centuries and there is evidence that music affects many areas of the brain. Mainly, including the regions involved in emotion, cognition, sensation, and movement. Significantly, this fact, along with the engaging nature of music and the diversity of music forms, makes music uniquely effective in the treatment of a wide array of physical and mental problems. Mainly, focusing on depression, anxiety, and hypertension which are dealt with by millions of people around the world.

Birth of Music Therapy

Historically, when traveling music groups played music for veterans during and after both World Wars in hospitals, doctors and clinicians began to realize the powerful effects that music has on the healing process. Mainly, this led to professional musicians being brought to perform music in hospitals. This instance generates a need for special training in the appropriate delivery of music as a therapeutic method.

Gradually, colleges and universities began to include music therapy as part of their curriculum. Consequently, beginning with Michigan State University in 1944. However, in 1950, the first major professional organization for music therapists came together, and it became known as the National Association for Music Therapy (NAMT).

In 1998, the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) was born out of a merger between the NAMT and the American Association for Music Therapy. The AMTA focuses on increasing awareness of and access to music therapy services while promoting the advancement of education, training, professional standards, and research in the field of music therapy.

Types of Music Therapy

The brain on music
The brain on music

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Music Therapy can be an active process, where clients play a role in creating music, or a passive one that involves listening or responding to music. Some therapists may use a combination that involves both active and passive interactions with music.

Analytical Therapy

Analytical music therapy encourages you to use impro, musical “dialogue” through singing or playing an instrument to express your unconscious thoughts, which you can reflect on and discuss with your therapist afterward.

Benenson Therapy

This format combines some concepts of psychoanalysis with the process of making music. Benenson music therapy includes the search for your “musical sound identity,” which describes the external sounds that most closely match your internal psychological state.

Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBMT)

This approach combines cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with music. In CBMT, music reinforces some behaviors and modifies others. This approach has a structure, not improvisational, and may include listening to music, dancing, singing, or playing an instrument.

Community Therapy

In particular, this format focuses on using music as a way to facilitate change at the community level. It’s done in a group setting and each member is enthusiastically a part of the therapy session.

Also called creative music therapy, this method involves playing an instrument (often a cymbal or drum) while the therapist accompanies them using another instrument. The improvisational process uses music as a way to help enable self-expression.

The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM)

This form of therapy uses classical music as a way to stimulate the imagination. In this method, you explain the feelings, sensations, memories, and imagery you experience while listening to music.

Vocal Psychotherapy

In this format, you use various vocal exercises, natural sounds, and breathing techniques to connect with your emotions and impulses. This practice creates a deeper sense of connection with yourself.

Role of Music Therapy in Mental Health

A musical brain
A musical brain

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Music therapy can benefit a diverse number of people, as music is inherently diverse. Specifically, the diverse nature of music can make it useful to treat concerns both of both physical and psychological nature. In some instances, the therapeutic use of music has been able to help people in ways that other forms of therapy have not, as it can sometimes elicit responses that may not appear in more traditional forms of treatment. Especially, when people find it difficult to express themselves verbally, they may display a greater degree of interest and engagement in music therapy than they would in a more traditional form of therapy. Most importantly, no background in music is essential for a person to benefit from this approach.

Benefits of Music in Mental Health

Because music can evoke positive emotions and stimulate reward centers in the brain, music therapy is often able to alleviate symptoms of mental health concerns. Be it depression, mood concerns, anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction, autism, or personality issues. And even sleep issues like insomnia or memory loss due to old age (dementia).

Significantly, music therapy can both assess and enhance cognitive, social, emotional, and motor functioning. Scientifically, studies have shown positive results among individuals who have intellectual or physical difficulties, brain injuries, or Alzheimer’s. Mainly, this type of therapy is useful to treat physical ailments such as cancer and hypertension.

The positive effects of music therapy not only help with coping with severe or long-lasting physical and psychological problems, but this therapy can benefit people in a variety of situations. As music is frequently made use to reduce stress levels and pain perception, mothers in labor. Additionally, music helps to improve self-esteem, self-concept, verbal communication, prosocial behavior, socialization skills, group cohesion, and coping skills.

Uses of Music Therapy

Music Therapy
Music Therapy on piano

Image Credit: Akankshasrivastavamusic

Due to the diversity that music therapy offers in treatment for individuals, here are some instances to explain the role that music therapy has in situations. Firstly, if a person experiences difficulty communicating after a stroke. The remedy is singing words or short phrases set to a simple melody can often enhance speech production and fluency.

Whereas a person with diminished motor skills might improve them by playing simple melodies on a piano or tapping out a rhythm on drum pads. Furthermore, listening to a rhythmic stimulus, such as a metronome, can also help a person initiate, coordinate, and time their movements.

Instances of use of Music Therapy

However, a therapist might play a piece of music for children with autism who have limited social skills and ask them to imagine the emotional state of the person who creates the music or the person who is playing it. In doing so, it can help a person with autism develop or strengthen the ability to consider the emotions others are experiencing.

Whereas group drumming circles can induce relaxation, provide an outlet for feelings, and foster social connectivity among members of a group. In this process, the group members might sit in a circle with a hand drum. While the therapist leads them in drumming activities, which may involve group members drumming one at a time or all at once. Even those who are part of the circle may express how they feel by playing a rhythm on their drum or the group may improvise music as a means of increasing group cohesiveness. Interestingly, music can be fused with guided imagery or progressive muscle relaxation techniques to enhance the effectiveness of these methods.

Things to Consider

On its own, music therapy may not constitute adequate treatment for medical conditions, including mental health disorders. However, when combined with medication, psychotherapy, and other interventions, it can be a valuable component of a treatment plan.

If you have difficulty hearing, wearing a hearing aid, or a hearing implant, you should talk with your audiologist. Especially before undergoing music therapy to ensure that it’s safe for you.

Similarly, music therapy that incorporates movement or dancing may not be a good fit. Especially if you’re experiencing pain, illness, injury, or a physical condition that makes it difficult to exercise.

You’ll also want to check your health insurance benefits before starting music therapy. Your sessions may be under the insurance cover or reimbursable under your plan, but you may need a referral from your doctor.

How to Get your Start

If you’d like to explore music therapy, talk to your doctor or therapist. They can connect you with practitioners in your community. The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) also maintains a database of board-certified, credentialed professionals. These people can help you to find a practicing music therapist in your area.

Depending on your goals, a typical music therapy session lasts between 30 and 50 minutes. Much like you would plan sessions with a psychotherapist, you may choose to have a set schedule for music therapy. It could be said, once a week—or you may choose to work with a music therapist on a more casual “as-need” basis.

Before your first session, you may want to talk things over with your music therapist so you know what to expect. And be sure to check in with your primary care physician if needed.

Limitations of Music Therapy

Music therapy session
Music therapy session

Image Credit: Verywellmind

Music therapy generally produces positive results, but it is not a stand-alone treatment recommendation for serious medical and psychiatric issues. While music may help to alleviate some of the symptoms of these conditions, other forms of treatment such as medication, physical therapy, or psychotherapy may also be necessary.

Further, while it is possible for any form of music to be effective in music therapy, not all individuals will find each type of music to be therapeutic. The benefit of a particular type of music will often depend on an individual’s preferences and the conditions that an individual experiences. However, some music forms may cause agitation. To achieve success with music therapy, a therapist will likely need to ensure the musical preferences of the individual in treatment are taken into consideration.

Scientific Studies proving Benefits

Abstract music painting
Abstract music painting

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A new study suggests that some sounds, such as lullabies, may soothe pre-term babies and their parents. And even improve the infants’ sleeping and eating patterns while decreasing parents’ stress.

Researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center’s Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine conducted the study. There were 272 premature babies 32 weeks gestation or older in 11 mid-Atlantic NICUs. They examined the effects of three types of music: a lullaby selected and sung by the baby’s parents; an “ocean disc,” a round instrument, invented by the Remo drum company. It mimics the sounds of the womb; and gato box, a drum-like instrument used to simulate two-tone heartbeat rhythms. The two instruments were played live by certified music therapists. Most importantly, they matched their music to the babies’ breathing and heart rhythms.

The Scientific Study Process

The researchers found that the gato box, the Remo ocean disc, and singing all slowed a baby’s heart rate. Although singing was the most effective. Specifically, singing also increased the number of times babies stayed quietly alert. Whereas sucking behavior improved most with the gato box, the ocean disc enhanced sleep. The music therapy also lowered the parents’ stress, says Joanne Loewy, the study’s lead author, director of the Armstrong center, and co-editor of the journal Music and Medicine.

“There’s just something about music — particularly live music — that excites and activates the body,” says Loewy. Whose work is part of a growing movement of music therapists and psychologists? There are investigating the use of music in medicine. Specifically to help patients dealing with pain, depression, and possibly even Alzheimer’s disease? “Music very much has a way of enhancing the quality of life and can, in addition, promote recovery.”


Surprised by the wonder of music and its benefits for healing mental ailments.  Not only that, but music therapy can also heal the symptoms of some physical problems. I certainly have genres of music I listen to boost my mood and ease stress. Which type of songs do you listen to? Let me know in the comment section below.

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