Music therapy and depression


The Effects of Music Therapy on Anxiety and Depression


The French Federation of Music-therapy defines music-therapy as ” …a therapeutic practice for care, support or rehabilitation that consists in managing individuals who present with communication and/or relationship problems. Different music therapy techniques are available, adapted to the populations concerned: psycho-affective disorders, social or behavioral difficulties, sensory, physical or neurological disorders. Music therapy is based on the close links that exist between the elements that make up music and the subject’s individual history. It uses sound and/or musical mediation to open or restore communication and expression within a relationship, in the verbal and/or non-verbal registers “.

Musicotherapy is a care technique that can be used with old people having pathologies in order to preserve their capacities. It helps to promote communication and to keep social ties with in the elderly. There are several types of musical therapies:

*Receptive musicotherapy is based on music listening.

*Active musicotherapy, the one which gives the person, the possibility to create his own acoustic with the help of musical instrument or with the voice.

The Effects of Receptive Music Therapy on Anxiety

First of all, we will exploit the effects of receptive music therapy on behavior disorders in the elderly. At present, several scientific studies show the benefits of music on anxiety, anguish and depression . A published study has shown the effects of music on the patient with Alzheimer’s disease but also on the main caregiver. These variables were measured by different scales (ZaritScale, CornellScale and Scale of Hamilton), the workshop was set up once a week for ten consecutive weeks to observe the effects. This study shows the efficiency of this mediation with patients with dementia disorders. It allows treating anxiety disorders and depression but also helps relieve the main caregiver considerably improving the morale of this person. The music would be an excellent mediator to restore social ties, family ties but also emotional .

A recent study published in the NPG review shows the impact of musicotherapy on anguish and on the process autobiographic memory process. The objective of this mediation is to encourage the exchanges and above all to give the patient the possibility to put words on ills, on painful. The work room of musicotherapy took place once a week for one hour with care professionals and a psychologist. The evaluation of anxiety was made with the visual analogical scale at the end of the session and three hours after it/later. This evaluation reveals the decrease of anxiety after the workroom but also prolongation of this after 3 hours later (Perrot).

It is important to notice that the therapeutic relation as well as the setting established in these different articles constitutes an important part in musicotherapy.

A study shows the effects of musical listening on old people suffering from dementia during nursing cares. The aim of this study was to examine the effects of the favourite music during the shower. This music could lead to a significant decrease of the aggressive behavior of the people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

18 old people, with a serious stage of Alzheimer’s disease have been picked in an aleatory way.

Two groups have been constituted:

* A control group without music

* A group kistening to (pre-selectionned) music during showers.

Results reveal that listening to music lead to a significant decrease of the behavior disorders during the shower. During the musical listening, les “soignants” pointed out an improvement of the behaviors and a general incensement of the cooperation during showers. This study shows cares improvement in its global quality concerning old people suffering from serious cognitive diseases. This study confirms/valids a previous study made by Thomas D.W that shows a reduction of physical aggressivity and a reduction of people who do not want to have showers thanks to musical listening.

Among all this research, a study of 24 cancer patients, hospitalized in oncology was conducted to show the effects of music on pain.

The evaluation of the pain has been estimated on a scale EVA (from 0 to 10) with a pain superior or equal to 3. Patients had the benefit to have receptive musicotherapy sessions realized by a music therapist according to the protocol adapted from the U standardized method. They quantify the level of pain and anxiety on the pain scale on a specific temporality (before, after and 30 minutes after each session). Musicotherapy allows a significant reduction of the pain but also of the anxiety until 30 minutes after the session and improve the quality of life of those patients thus it allows them a moment of relaxation out of cares and a time for speaking and listening.

Pierre Lemarquis gives us important elements on the effects of music on the brain. Indeed, music comes from emotions and it is logical that it causes emotions to the person who is listening to it. IRM funder lines an activation of the reward circuit (pits of Acubens) during the musical listening session. This activation provokes a dopamine secretion, essential in motivation but also a serotoninergicantidepressive and endorphin analgesic secretion. Therefore, listening to music has relaxing property reducing stress and anguish. The author underlines the fact that the brain of old person has an active synaptic plasticity thanks to a stimulating environment such as music. Some compensatories strategies can appear causing dentritics regrowths and new synaptic formation.

The Effects of Active Music Therapy on Depression

In practice, Active Music Therapy (AMT) consists of establishing a sound or musical relationship with patients. AMT allows the patient to express him or herself by using voice (singing) or playing an instrument or using him/her body (tapping). The rhythm, the tonality, the intensity, the melody are used to help patient to recover or discover positive feeling through pleasure, and develop his social abilities. Singing, can further help with aphasia to facilitate speech rehabilitation, breath control, and motricity in the verbal and/or nonverbal registers .

AMT is also particularly adapted to reduce behavioral and psychological symptoms (BPSD) for Alzheimer’s patients, significantly approved with BPSD like delusions, agitation, apathy, irritability, aberrant motor activity, and night-time disturbances . Music is effective in decreasing the frequency of agitated and aggressive behaviors for individuals diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias which are highly correlated with anxiety and depression.

Several epidemiologic studies have examined depression as a risk factor for Alzheimer disease with conflicting results . They conclude that depression was associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer disease. Could be Music Therapy used in prevention of the risk for Alzheimer disease?

To pursue on this meta-analysis, we found a study about the effects of AMT on depression. It is effective because active musicmaking within the therapeutic frame offers the patient opportunities for new aesthetic, physical and relational experiences . Music has effects on mood and emotional changes. Through autobiographic memory recall, it contributes to reminiscence and the sense of control of life through positive experiences. Hearing music, singing, tapping, increased attention to music and accompanies awareness of self and environment. It contribute to ” reconnect ” the patient with his environment against mood disorders like depression and anxiety increasing his quality of life.

Music is also efficient with patient’s family and caregivers. It provokes and stimulates interest even when no other approach is effective through emotional intimacy experiences shared . Another study shows the efficacy of MT as a complementary therapy for social functioning and participation in rehabilitation with individuals with acute traumatic brain injury and stroke. The MT group was more actively involved and cooperative than in the control group with a trend toward improvement in mood during acute rehabilitation .

Neurophysiological hypothesis is based on the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the striatum. Salimpoor et al. experienced some anticipation in the dopamine release. Dopamine is released a few seconds before the emotional peak by anticipation and the predictability, provokes responses like feelings of security associated with pleasure. Salimpoor describes it as “…each act of listening to music may be thought of as both recapitulating the past and predicting the future”.

Perrot et al. analyzed the impact on anxiety and processes of autobiographical memory on subjects with cognitive impairment combined with psychopathological suffering. This survey showed that anxiety decrease significantly at the end of the workshop (73 % patients – 14/19). They concluded that MT envelope the patients and have a cathartic effect. MT also helps to maintain identity in Alzheimer’s disease. This therapy can be an alternative to the administration of psychotropic treatments or restraints for patient in pain.

About pain treatment, we know now that pain is linked with anxiety which can become depression with chronic pain. Anxiety can very quickly move from a temporary sensation, fleeting a quasi-permanent state, the crisis turns into anxiety. Dumbar et al. concluded that performance of music with AMT elevates pain threshold with endorphin release and positive effects. Music therapy offers a nonpharmacologic and safe alternative in the treatment of pain in palliative care patients . In this experiment, the MT group was assigned to receive physical exercise training combined with listening to music versus subjects control group who received a therapy with antidepressant drugs. The effects of interventions were assessed by differences in changes in mood states between the two groups. In the exercise/music therapy group the results was a reduction in anxiety and in depression at 3-months and at 6-months.

Some hypotheses are based on neurological response to music. The reward circuit is activated when something pleasant is happening like sex, good food etc… but music is not tangible so, how does it makes our brain sing? The most simply explanation is that music brings a unique pleasure to humans. A feeling of love which moves us like nothing else through emotion.

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  4. Riecker A, Ackermann H, Wildgruber D, Dogil G, Grodd W. Opposite hemispheric lateralization effects during speaking and singing at motor cortex, insula and cerebellum. Neuroreport, 2000; 11: 1997-2000.
  5. Raglio A, Bellelli G, Traficante D, Gianotti M, Ubezio MC, Villani D, et al. Efficacy of music therapy in the treatment of behavioral and psychiatric symptoms of dementia. Alzheimer Dis Assoc Disord. 2008; 22: 158-162.
  6. Clark ME, Lipe AW, Bilbrey M. Use of music to decrease aggressive behaviors in people with dementia. J Gerontol Nurs. 1998; 24: 10-17.
  7. Simon HB. Music as Medicine. The American Journal of Medicine. 2014.
  8. Pittman S, Kridli S. Music intervention and preoperative anxiety: an integrative review. Int Nurs Rev. 2011; 58: 157-163.
  9. Hanser, SB. A Music Therapy Strategy for Depressed Older Adults in the Community. Journal of Applied Gerontology. 1990.
  10. Andersen K, Lolk A, Kragh-Sørensen P, Petersen NE, Green A. Depression and the risk of Alzheimer disease. Epidemiology. 2005; 16: 233-238.
  11. Maratos A, Crawford MJ, Procter S. Music therapy for depression: it seems to work, but how? Br J Psychiatry. 2011; 199: 92-93.
  12. Brotons M, Marti P. Music therapy with Alzheimer’s patients and their family caregivers: a pilot project. J Music Ther. 2003; 40: 138-150.
  13. Nayak S, Wheeler BL, Shiflett SC, Agostinelli S. Effect of music therapy on mood and social interaction among individuals with acute traumatic brain injury and stroke. Rehabilitation Psychology. 2000.
  14. Salimpoor VN, Benovoy M, Larcher K, Dagher A, Zatorre RJ. Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nat Neurosci. 2011; 14: 257-262.
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Music therapy for depression

Why is this review important?

Depression is a common problem that causes changes in mood and loss of interest and pleasure. Music therapy, an intervention that involves regular meetings with a qualified music therapist, may help in improving mood through emotional expression. This review might add new information about effects of music therapy in depressed individuals.

Who will be interested in this review?

Our review will be of interest for the following people: people with depression and their families, friends, and carers; general practitioners, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other professionals working in mental health; music therapists working in mental health; and mental health policy makers.

What questions does this review aim to answer?

1. Is music therapy more effective than treatment as usual alone or psychological therapy?

2. Is any form of music therapy better than another form of music therapy?

Which studies were included in the review?

We included nine studies with a total of 421 people of any age group (from adolescents to older people). Studies compared effects of music therapy versus treatment as usual, and versus psychological therapy. Additionally, we examined the differences between two different forms of music therapy: active (where people sing or play music) and receptive (where people listen to music).

What does evidence from the review tell us?

We found that music therapy plus treatment as usual is more effective than treatment as usual alone. Music therapy seems to reduce depressive symptoms and anxiety and helps to improve functioning (e.g. maintaining involvement in job, activities, and relationships). We are not sure whether music therapy is better than psychological therapy. We do not know whether one form of music therapy is better than another. The small numbers of identified studies and participants make it hard to be confident about these comparisons.

What should happen next?

Music therapy for depression is likely to be effective for people in decreasing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Music therapy also helps people to function in their everyday life. However, our findings are not complete and need to be clarified through additional research. Future trials should study depression in children and adolescents, and future trial reports should thoroughly describe music therapy interventions, other interventions, and the person who delivers these interventions.

6 Health Benefits of Music Therapy

1. Reduces Anxiety & Physical Effects of Stress

An article published in the Southern Medical Journal states that “Although there are wide variations in individual preferences, music appears to exert direct physiologic effects through the autonomic nervous system.” (1) Music has the ability to cause immediate motor and emotional responses, especially when combining movement and stimulation of different sensory pathways.

When instrument playing is involved, both auditory and tactile stimulation help produce a state of mental relaxation. Music is now used as a form of natural therapy for many different diseases, even showing benefits for those who are severely physically or cognitively impaired — such as handicapped children, geriatric adults suffering from late-stage chronic illnesses, or those with severe social anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder.

Not surprisingly, studies have found that MT seems to have the most benefits when combined with other interdisciplinary practices, such as physical exercise, occupational and speech therapy, psychological counseling, improved nutrition and social support.

2. Improves Healing

One of the ways that MT is being used in hospital settings is improving healing by reducing anxiety prior to procedures or tests. Studies have found that MT lowers anxiety in patients undergoing cardiac procedures and seems to relax patients after surgery or during follow-up invasive diagnostic procedures.

It’s suggested that music can positively modify release of stress hormones that are beneficial for neurological, immune, respiratory and cardiac functions involved in healing. (2)

3. Can Help Manage Parkinson’s & Alzheimer’s Disease

Both anecdotal evidence and clinical studies show that MT improves both cognitive functions and quality of life in patients suffering from cognitive impairments, including Parkinson’s (PD) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). According to a report printed in the World Journal of Psychiatry, “Mood disorder and depressive syndromes represent a common comorbid condition in neurological disorders with a prevalence rate that ranges between 20–5o percent of patients with stroke, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. (3)

It’s been found that the act of music-making provides a form of uplifting therapy for these patients that helps them cope with progressive worsening of symptoms, as well as offering stimulation to their senses and an element social support when sessions are conducted in groups. (4)

In 2000, the American Psychosomatic Society published research regarding the positive effects of music therapy in helping to improve a number of symptoms in those with PD by managing things like sensory loss, disability or depression. According to the researchers, “Music acts as a specific stimulus to obtain motor and emotional responses by combining movement and stimulation of different sensory pathways.” The randomized, controlled, single-blinded study included 32 patients with Parkinson’s that were split into either the MT group or control. (5)

The study lasted three months and consisted of weekly sessions of music therapy combined with physical therapy (PT). During music therapy sessions, treatment consisted of group choral singing, voice exercises, rhythmic and free body movements, and active music involving collective invention. Physical therapy was also incorporated to include stretching exercises, specific motor tasks, and strategies to improve balance and gait.

After three months — using the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale, emotional functions with the Happiness Measure, and quality of life using the Parkinson’s Disease Quality of Life Questionnaire — results showed that MT offered significant overall benefits compared to the control. Positive effects were measured for bradykinesia, motor improvement, control of emotional functions, improvements in activities of daily living, and improved overall quality of life. (6)

4. Reduces Depression & Other Symptoms in the Elderly

MT is now highly recommended in geriatric care settings due to how is helps improve social, psychological, intellectual and cognitive performance of older adults. Depression, feelings of isolation, boredom, anxiety over procedures and fatigue are common complaints among geriatric patients. Both active and passive MT seem to help with mood improvement, providing a sense of comfort and relaxation and even modifying caregiver behavior. (7)

Sessions have shown positive effects when conducted before anxiety-provoking procedures or for patients staying in intensive care units. For worried caregivers, music is considered a “cost-effective and enjoyable strategy to improve empathy, compassion and relationship-centered care.”

5. Helps Reduce Symptoms of Psychological Disorders, Including Schizophrenia

Findings from a very recent 2017 study conducted in South Korea indicate that a 12-week program of group music therapy served as an effective intervention for improving psychiatric symptoms and interpersonal relationships in patients with mental illness like schizophrenia. (8)

The music program used in the study, which was published in the Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, was modeled after Nanta, a popular and long-running type of non-verbal comedy show in South Korea that incorporates traditional samul nori rhythms. (9) The unifying elements throughout Nanta music are performed with improvised instruments, such as cutting boards, water canisters and kitchen knives, and are almost totally non-verbal. The intervention was conducted in 12 sessions over 12 weeks, taking 90 minutes per session.

6. Improves Self-Expression & Communication

One of the longest-standing uses of music interventions is helping to treat those who are physically or mentally handicapped living in rehabilitation centers who have difficulty with self-expression. For those with physical handicaps, receptive music therapy is used to help patients have “flow experiences” when listening to stimulating music and to learn how to better respond through verbal and non-verbal feedback based on changing music stimuli. (10)

In children with developmental delays — such as autism or delayed speech development, who are more at risk of acquiring other cognitive, social-emotional, and school-related problems— music therapy helps facilitate speech development quickly (within about 8 weeks), teaches turn-taking, and improves imitation or vocalization. (11)

Related: How Energy Healing Works to Benefit the Body & Mind

How to Find a Reputable Music Therapist

How does someone earn a music therapy degree, and where do music therapists usually wind up becoming employed?

The American Music Therapy Association states on their website that Music Therapy is “The clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy degree program.”

Meeting with a certified music therapist is very different then simply listening to music on your own. Professional sessions will allow you to experience personalized therapy aiming to achieve emotional well-being, physical health, social functioning, communication abilities and cognitive skills through musical responses. Things that your musical therapist might employ during sessions include:

  • improvisation
  • receptive music listening
  • creative song writing
  • lyric discussion
  • music with guided imagery
  • singing, playing, dancing and performance
  • learning through music

To find a therapist qualified to practice music therapy, look for someone who has completed an approved bachelor degree, masters program or recognized equivalencies. Most therapists have a masters degree in music therapy and have completed an internship before becoming eligible to sit for the national examination offered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists.

To verify certification credentials of an individual, you can visit here. This allows you to locate and check Music therapists who have successfully completed the independently administered examination to hold the credential “Music Therapist, Board Certified (MT-BC).” Other accreditations may include RMT (Registered Music Therapist), CMT (Certified Music Therapist) and ACMT (Advanced Certified Music Therapist).

Precautions Regarding the Use of Music Therapy

Music therapy is comparable to other treatments like psychotherapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy in that individual responses and improvements vary. Treatments can sometimes be costly and are not always reimbursable through insurance, although this seems to be changing. The American Music Therapy Association now estimates that approximately 20 percent of music therapists receive third party insurance reimbursement for the services they provide.

To help with coverage, speak to your insurance provider about your illness, symptoms, injury and need for intervention. If you have questions regarding how you’re responding to MT sessions, ask your regular healthcare provider for advice or consider speaking with someone such as a cognitive behavioral therapist in addition to music therapist.

  • Music therapy is a professional intervention practice that helps patients express and work through difficult emotions as guided by a therapist using rhythm, movement, instruments and senses like sound, touch, visualization and more.
  • Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: physical rehabilitation, facilitating movement, reducing anxiety or depression improving healing, increasing attention or motivation, and helping with social communication.
  • For research insights, tips and to find a qualified music therapist to work with, patients can visit the website of the American Music Therapy Association.

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Depression is a mood disorder which can severely affect how you think, feel, and handle day-to-day activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be prevalent for at least two weeks. The symptoms of depression include:

Symptoms of Depression:

  • Persistent sad and anxious mood

  • Minimal energy and increased fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Difficulty while sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping

  • Loss of interest in hobbies and other activities

  • Feeling of guilt, helplessness, and worthlessness

  • Difficulty in concentration, remembering, or taking decisions

  • Feeling restless

  • Suicidal and death thoughts, or suicide attempts

  • Feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, and pessimism

  • Appetite and weight changes

Experts reveal that about a 10 to 15 percent of the general population experience clinical depression once in their lifetime. While the estimations done by the World Health Organization reveal that approximately 5 percent of men and 9 percent of women experience depressive mental disorders during any given year. There are several causes that may lead to depression. Some of them are mentioned below.

Causes of Depression:

  • Genetics and Biology

  • Brain Chemistry Imbalance

  • Circadian Rhythm Disturbance

  • Poor Nutrition

  • Physical Health Problems

  • Drugs

  • Stressful Life Events

  • Grief and Loss

People who experience depression may come across a lot other family and health-related problems. There are numerous risks related to depression. These risks, if not managed properly with due consultation from your healthcare practitioners, can prove to be lethal for your overall health. Some of the risks associated with depression are mentioned below.

Risks of Depression:

  • Low self-esteem

  • Lack of social support

  • Developing a serious or chronic illness

  • Experiencing other mental health disorders, like anxiety or bipolar disorder

  • Increased consumption of drugs and alcohol

  • Seclusion of oneself from the family and friends

Depression is a mental disorder, the diagnosis of which is utmost important. Usually, people fail to talk about it with their friends and family. While it is extremely important to talk to someone about your feeling and consulting a doctor. Depression is still a taboo amongst people but, it is vital to understand that if diagnosed at an early age, it can be easily cured.

The cures to depression are many. While some experts suggest performing the hobbies as the best remedy coupled with taking of proper medications. Some widely acknowledge the importance of music in healing depression.

Music, an Effective Remedy to combat Depression

Music therapy is known to do wonders for people who have depression. Music therapists are usually skilled musicians who have in-depth knowledge of how music can help stimulate emotional responses to relax people or help them heal mental disorders, especially depression.

According to a 2011 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatrist by Finnish researchers, music therapy plus standard care shows steady improvement in depressive symptoms among the depressed than those just receiving standard care. It is helpful in improving the general wellbeing of individuals, as well.

Music therapy is an effective therapy to heal depression and nowadays, you can easily listen to your favorite songs and can convert youtube mp3 too, and fight depression and other mental disorders’ in just a few clicks.

Music therapy may help ease depression

(Reuters Health) – Traditional depression treatments like psychotherapy or medication might work better for some patients when doctors add a dose of music therapy, a research review suggests.

Researchers examined data on 421 people who participated in nine previously completed short-term experiments testing the benefits of music therapy on its own or added to traditional interventions for depression.

Overall, the analysis found patients felt less depressed when music was added to their treatment regimen, according to the analysis in the Cochrane Library.

Music therapy also appeared to help ease anxiety and improve functioning in depressed individuals, and it appeared just as safe as traditional treatments.

“We can now be more confident that music therapy in fact improves patients’ symptoms and functioning, and that this finding holds across a variety of settings, countries, types of patients, and types of music therapy,” said senior study author Christian Gold of Uni Research Health in Bergen, Norway.

More than 300 million people worldwide have depression, which is projected to become the leading cause of disability by 2020, Gold and colleagues write.

Music therapy can include passive approaches that involve listening, active treatments that involve playing an instrument or singing or participating in a musical performance, or some combination of these approaches. What sets therapy apart from other musical endeavors is that it is typically led by a person with training in counseling, psychology or treating depression.

Even though music therapy has long been used all over the world, research to date hasn’t offered a clear picture of its benefits, Gold said.

The last review of music therapy published by Cochrane in 2008 didn’t offer as much evidence of benefits, Gold said. A milestone study that came out in 2011 concluded that music could help but was only done in one country and left many unanswered questions, he said.

“The present review update confirms these findings and broadens them,” Gold said by email. “We still think that more research is needed; however, we feel that research on music therapy for depression can now turn to more specific questions, such as comparing different types of therapy to each other.”

Studies included in the current review ranged in duration from six to 12 weeks. The smallest study had just 14 participants, and the largest one included 79 people.

The total number of treatment sessions ranged from eight to 48, and the duration of sessions varied from 20 minutes to two hours.

Only one of the studies in the analysis compared active versus passive music therapy, and it didn’t find a difference in the short-term severity of depression.

“The most important finding is that music therapy shows short-term beneficial effects for people with depression when added on top of baseline psychological or pharmacological treatment,” said Dr. Gjin Ndrepepa, a researcher at Technical University in Munich, Germany, who wasn’t involved in the study.

How it works isn’t clear, Ndrepepa said by email.

But modern brain imaging studies have shown that music therapy activates regions of the brain that are involved in regulating emotions. Joyful and sad music can have different effects, too, Ndrepepa added.

More research is still needed to figure out what type of music therapy works best for specific patient situations, Gold said.

“Until we have more specific research results comparing different music therapies to each other, music therapy should be seen as one of a variety of options,” Gold said. “It is important to have choices because no therapy works for everyone.”

SOURCE: Cochrane Library, online November 16, 2017.

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

People with depression feel better after listening to sad music, research suggests

People with depression listen to sad music because it makes them feel better, according to a small study that is one of the first to investigate why people turn to tearjerkers when they’re already down.

The first part of the study, published recently in the journal Emotion, tried to repeat the findings of a 2015 study that showed that depressed people preferred listening to sad music. Researchers at the University of South Florida asked 76 female undergrads (half of them were diagnosed with depression) to listen to various classical music clips. “Happy” music included Jacques Offenbach’s cheerful “Infernal Gallop,” and “sad” music included Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” which is almost universally considered to be extremely depressing. The scientists found that, like in the 2015 study, participants with depression indicated they would rather listen to sad music than happy music.

Then, the researchers gave the participants new clips of happy and sad instrumental music and asked them to describe how the tracks made them feel. Again, the depressed participants preferred the sad music, but they also stated that the sad music made them feel happier. “They actually were feeling better after listening to this sad music than they were before,” study co-author Jonathan Rottenberg told WUSF News. It seemed to have relaxing and calming effects. This challenges the assumption that sad people listen to sad music to make themselves feel worse, when, in fact, it may be a coping mechanism.

Of course, there are many limitations. This is a small study that only looked at female undergraduates, so the results should be taken with a grain of salt. (Psychology, in general, tends to use WEIRD — Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic — subjects too often.) We don’t have a lot of detail regarding exactly why people with depression prefer sad music, and we don’t know how results might change with happy and sad music that has words.

However, it’s an intriguing finding that does replicate some earlier research and could have implications for fields such as music therapy. In this intervention, trained music therapists incorporate music into their interactions with patients by singing, listening to music, or playing music together. It has been used for everything from pain relief to helping cancer patients, and a 2017 Cochrane review of the evidence suggested that it had at least short-term benefits for patients with depression. Though there is no “most common” type of music used in music therapy, the programs can often include instruments like guitars and drums. In the future, maybe there will be a greater focus on sorrowful songs.

How Music Therapy Can Relieve Depression

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Growing up, I had three primary therapists: Bach, Beethoven, and Rachmaninoff. My hour or two a day at the upright piano in the family room of my childhood home became a sanctuary of sorts for me. I practiced scales, cadences, and arpeggios until they were perfect, because rhythm–that sweet pattern between sound and silence–was something that I could control with the tip of my fingers. Emotion was translated into melody as I played the ivory and ebony keys, sometimes closing my eyes.

The History of Music Therapy

From the earliest days of civilization, music has been used to heal the body and soul, and to express what is difficult to articulate in words. The ancient Greek philosophers used music for therapeutic purposes. Manic patients were coached to listen to calming melodies of the flute, and persons with depression were instructed to listen to dulcimer hymns. Healing shrines housed musicians along with physicians. In fact, the music of Thales was said to cure persons affected by a plague in Sparta around 600 B.C.

Modern music therapy originated in the 1940s after World War II. Thousands of soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were institutionalized, unable to function in society. Community musicians began to visit veteran hospitals to play for those suffering from physical and emotional trauma. Nurses and doctors noted the positive physical and emotional response—how the hymns and melodies reached patients in ways that traditional therapies were unable to — and began to hire musicians for the hospitals.

In 1950, the National Association for Music Therapy (NAMT) was founded, which created standards for university-level educational and clinical training requirements for music therapists, as well as furthering research in the field. The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) was formed in 1998 as a merger between NAMT and the American Association for Music Therapy (AAMT). Today AMTA is the single largest music therapy association in the world, serving over 5,000 music therapists across 30 different countries. It promotes music therapy through a host of publications, including two research journals.

An Evidence-Based Therapy

On their Music and Mental Health page, AMTA lists over a dozen studies supporting the benefits of music therapy for persons with depression and anxiety. Among the outcomes documented in music therapy are:

  • Reduced muscle tension
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Enhanced interpersonal relationships
  • Increased motivation
  • Successful and safe emotional release

In a 2011 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatrist, Finnish researchers evaluated 79 people between the ages of 18 and 50 with depression. Forty-six participants received the standard care, which according to Central Finland Health Care District (where the study was conducted) includes five to six psychotherapy sessions, antidepressants, and psychiatric counseling.

The other 33 participants received the same standard treatment, but also received a total of 20 bi-weekly music therapy sessions, each lasting 60 minutes. The musical expression in the sessions were based on a selection of music instruments, including a mallet instrument, a percussion instrument, and an acoustic djembe drum. The therapist and the client had identical instrumentation, and all improvisations were recorded for further processing and discussion.

Depression scores were measured at baseline, at three months after the intervention, and at six months. After three months, the participants who received music therapy plus standard care showed significant improvement in depressive symptoms than those just receiving standard care. General functioning improved, as well.

How Does Music Therapy Work?

In music therapy, a therapist uses music to address physical, emotional, and social needs of an individual. Listening and creating music within a therapeutic context allows individuals to express themselves in nonverbal ways. The interplay of melody, harmony, and rhythm stimulate the senses of a person and promote calmness by slowing down the breath, heart rate, and other bodily functions. Musical engagement, especially when combined with talk therapy, boosts levels of the hormone dopamine, which plays a role in the reward-motivation behavior. The kind of music used is usually tailored to the needs of the patient. It is common to employ several combinations of music.

Psychiatrist Michael Crawford published an interesting editorial in The British Journal of Psychiatry, reagrding the same issue as the Finnish study, where he highlights three plausible reasons why music therapy works: first, it provides a sense of meaningfulness and pleasure—music is an aesthetic experience that draws in the otherwise passive patient; second, this kind of therapy engages the body and gets people moving—the physical participation averts depression; and finally, it is relational, in that music helps us engage, communicate, and interact with others. We are hardwired to connect and be social, and music allows us to do that.

Active and Passive Music Therapy

Music therapy is generally either active or passive. In active therapy, the therapist and the patient compose music using an instrument or the voice. The patient is encouraged to share thoughts and feelings that surface with the composition. Ideally, throughout the process the individual will develop insight into his or her problems. In passive therapy, individuals listen to music while meditating, drawing, or doing some kind of reflective activity. The therapist and patient then talk about the feelings or memories evoked by the music.

If you are interested in music therapy, you may find a qualified music therapist by contacting the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA).

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How music can help you heal

Music therapy can calm anxiety, ease pain, and provide a pleasant diversion during chemotherapy or a hospital stay.

Published: February, 2016

It’s almost impossible to find someone who doesn’t feel a strong connection to music. Even if you can’t carry a tune or play an instrument, you can probably reel off a list of songs that evoke happy memories and raise your spirits. Surgeons have long played their favorite music to relieve stress in the operating room, and extending music to patients has been linked to improved surgical outcomes. In the past few decades, music therapy has played an increasing role in all facets of healing.

What is music therapy?

Music therapy is a burgeoning field. People who become certified music therapists are usually accomplished musicians who have deep knowledge of how music can evoke emotional responses to relax or stimulate people or help them heal. They combine this knowledge with their familiarity with a wide variety of musical styles to find the specific kind that can get you through a challenging physical rehab session or guide you into meditation. And they can find that music in your favorite genre, be it electropop or grand opera.

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The Benefits of Music Therapy

Music therapists hold a bachelor’s degree or a higher degree, such as a masters or doctorate. Their training is typically received from one of the American Music Therapy Association’s approved colleges or university programs. After receiving basic training, music therapists also participate in 1200 or more hours of supervised clinical training. Eventually, they become board certified and licensed.

Concerns/Limitations of Music Therapy

Music therapy has been proven helpful for many different presenting concerns. However, it may not work as a stand-alone treatment for certain conditions. Individuals with serious psychiatric or medical issues will likely need treatment from other modalities as well (such as medications). In these cases, music therapy may be a helpful adjunctive treatment, to add on, for holistic and integrative care.

Providers who practice music therapy will generally aim to tailor the approach to each individual client. Some individuals may not respond well to all types of music and activities. Individual preference will play a role in selecting specific treatment techniques/interventions and it could create some limitations.

How to Find a Therapist

Music therapists work in many different settings including outpatient clinics, community mental health centers, psychiatric treatment centers, substance abuse programs, rehabilitation facilities, medical centers, group homes, senior centers, hospices, and schools. Music therapists can specialize in the types of concerns they will address. Some have specialized training for working with mental health concerns.

What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

When you search for a licensed mental health professional (LMHP) you will want someone who is generally trained and experienced in the field. If you are seeking music therapy, you will want a provider who has specialized training as a music therapist. When you choose to work with a mental health provider, you also want to be sure they have experience working with mental health concerns similar to yours. Finally, to make therapy the most productive, you will want to work with a provider whom you feel generally connected to and comfortable with as a therapist.

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

When you pursue mental health treatment, you will likely want to ask your potential provider many questions before you get started. You will probably want to ask about their training, experience, and approach to treatment. It is also helpful to ask what approach the potential provider will take to working with your specific concerns and goals. You may also want to know about whether music therapy will be the most appropriate and helpful approach for your needs.

Many people will also have concerns about whether they can afford therapy. In many cases, music therapy can be covered by insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare. This is possible for diagnosable mental health conditions when music therapy appears as an appropriate treatment.

Find a Therapist Now

If you choose to pursue therapy, there are websites to help you find local providers. One useful site is Psychology Today, where you can search for providers according to your location. The SAMSHA website also has a provider locator to find nearby options that are considered low-cost. The AMTA also has an online directory to help you find qualified music therapists. Presently, many people also choose to obtain therapy directly through online platforms.

If you choose to obtain therapy online, use a convenient and confidential platform. One option is Thrive Talk. This platform is high-quality and easy to use. You simply start by setting up an account and then get matched with a therapist. There are many potential providers to choose from. All are trained and appropriately licensed in their field. You can then easily use the online platform to schedule an appointment at the time that is most convenient for you.

Final Thoughts on Music Therapy

Music therapy is a proven approach for addressing mental health concerns. It is an approach that requires specialized training for the mental health provider. When used correctly, it can provide many different benefits to decrease psychological symptoms and improve psychological functioning.

9 Ways Music Can Cure Depression, Drug Addiction and Stop Suicide

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

Learning comes easily to people who have developed:


Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.


Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.


Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

How to Self-Taught Effectively

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.


Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.


2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.


4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

More About Self-Learning

  • 6 Effective Learning Techniques that are Backed by Research
  • 7 Steps to Make Self-Learning Effective for You
  • 42 Practical Ways To Improve Yourself

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via

Music can profoundly affect mood


The concept is certainly not new. Ancient Greeks are said to have used music for therapeutic purposes and today, a growing body of research reveals that music therapy can be an effective adjunct to traditional treatment.

A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatrist followed 79 individuals ages 18 to 50 who were diagnosed with depression. Forty-six of the participants received traditional care including therapy sessions, medication, and psychiatric counseling. The remainder received the same treatment, but also experienced bi-weekly music therapy sessions. Those sessions allowed the participants to create music with a rhythmic mallet instrument, an acoustic drum and a percussion instrument. After just 3 months of treatment, the music therapy group showed a significant improvement in depressive symptoms compared to those in the control group.
Additional studies are revealing that music therapy may provide multiple benefits for individuals struggling with depression and anxiety:

  • Reduced muscle tension

  • Increased self-esteem

  • Decreased anxiety

  • Enhanced personal relationships

  • Increased motivation

  • Safe emotional release


Music therapy (also known as active music therapy or passive music therapy) has also shown promise in improving function, helping to stimulate creativity, and even in improving communication between patients and caregivers.

An active session allows the patient and/or therapist to create music spontaneously. The patient is guided in sharing thoughts and feelings that come to the surface allowing insight into thoughts and behaviors. In passive therapy, individuals listen to music while in meditation or reflection. The therapist and patient can then explore the memories and emotions evoked by the music.

So why exactly does it work? Theories abound, but there are some basic fundamentals. Experiencing music in a therapeutic environment can help an individual to express themselves on a deeper level. Scientists believe that a select combination of melody, harmony, and rhythm can promote a sense of calm by slowing breathing rate, heart rate and other body functions. Combined with talk therapy, music can help to boost levels of our “feel good” hormones, thereby stimulating freedom of expression and clarity of thought. In fact, review of nine studies involving more than 400 participants found that music therapy was effective in “decreasing anxiety levels and improving functioning of depressed individuals.”

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