By Cathy Wong, ND – Reviewed by a board-certified physician.
What does “benefits of music therapy” mean? If you like music, you know it can make an important difference in how you’re feeling. But you may be surprised to learn what a difference music can make for people who are depressed or who are anxious because they’re sick. For these people, music can be used to enhance their health.
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 problems.
What Happens in Music Therapy?
A music therapy session may incorporate a number of different elements, such as making music, writing songs, or listening to music. The music therapist’s goal may be, for example, to encourage a patient to express emotion, to help relieve a patient’s stress or anxiety, to help improve a patient’s mood, and/or to enhance quality of life if the patient’s coping with illness.
Research shows that patients don’t need any musical ability to benefit from music therapy.
Here’s a look at some key findings from clinical studies in which music therapy’s effects on patients’ health were evaluated.
Depression. Music therapy may help some patients fight depression, according to a report published in 2008. Researchers sized up data from five previously published studies; in four of them, 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 music therapy techniques, such as painting to music and improvised singing.
Stress. Music therapy may help ease stress in pregnancy, according to a 2008 study of 236 healthy pregnant women.
Compared to a control group, the 116 study participants who received music therapy showed significantly greater reductions in stress, anxiety, and depression. The music therapy involved listening to a half-hour of soothing music twice daily for two weeks.
In a research report published in 2009, investigators found that listening to music may also benefit patients who experience severe stress and anxiety because of having coronary heart disease. The report included two studies on patients treated by trained music therapists. Results showed that listening to music had a beneficial effect on blood pressure, heart rate, respiratory rate, and pain in people with coronary heart disease.
Autism. Music therapy may help improve communication skills in children with autistic spectrum disorder, according to a review published 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.”
Cancer. Research suggests that music therapy may offer a number of benefits for people coping with cancer. For instance, music therapy has been shown to reduce anxiety in patients receiving radiation therapy, and it has helped ease nausea and vomiting resulting from high-dose chemotherapy.