Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Music Therapy to Treat Depression

music therapy.jpgTara Parker-Pope writes an interesting piece in the New York Times about using music to treat depression. You can get to the original article by clicking here.

Many people find that music lifts their spirits. Now new research shows that music therapy — either listening to or creating music with a specially trained therapist — can be a useful treatment for depression.


The finding that music therapy offers a real clinical benefit to depression sufferers comes from a review by the Cochrane Collaboration, a not-for-profit group that reviews health care issues. Although there aren’t many credible studies of music therapy for depression, the reviewers found five randomized trials that studied the effects of music therapy. Some studies looked at the effects of providing music therapy to patients who were receiving drug treatment for depression. Others compared music therapy to traditional talk therapy. In four out of five of the trials, music therapy worked better at easing depression symptoms than therapies that did not employ music, the researchers found.

“The current studies indicate that music therapy may be able to improve mood and has low drop-out rates,” said lead author Anna Maratos, an arts therapist for the National Health Service in London. “While the evidence came from a few small studies, it suggests that this is an area that is well worth further investigation….We need to find out which forms have greatest effect.”


Ms. Maratos notes that music therapy might be particularly useful for adolescents who may reject a traditional form of counseling. Some older patients also may not be comfortable talking about their feelings, “but do tend to express themselves through song,” she said.

“I think we can be reasonably confident that music therapy has an effect,” Ms. Maratos said. “Music therapy is often used where more conventional therapies are not as likely to be as accepted or tolerated.”


There are two main types of music therapy. Sometimes, a therapist will listen to music with a patient and talk about the feelings or memories that it evokes. In another form, the therapist is a skilled musician and will improvise music with the patient. If the patient doesn’t play an instrument, he or she might be given a simple percussion instrument and the therapist will play along.

Other studies have shown a benefit from music therapy in the treatment for autism, dementia, learning disabilities, strokes and pain management during labor and birth. The problem, Ms. Maratos notes, is that there isn’t very much high-quality research. “It doesn’t easily attract serious research funding,” she said. “It’s difficult to do high-quality, large-scale trials.”


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  • Bill

    Nice article Therese. Makes perfect “sense” that music – sound – can help us. And what a great approach for teens – why not try to reach them where they so often live? And, you know, I stress “sound” knowing how nice if feels to me to hear a soothing voice. And I know how effective that same soothing voice dynamic can be to folks I’m working with. In fact, it’s been mentioned to me. Think about how a soft and warm voice has soothed our babies and children. Yes, music – sound – is powerful.

  • Laura Ouimet

    This is not new. My father, a psychologist who is now retired, set up a music therapy department at the Norwich Connecticut State Hospital. He was working with a catatonic patient who hadn’t spoken for years, when she asked to learn the piano after listening to him play! This was over 40 years ago!

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  • Farouk

    yes i do agree that music can have such a big impact on the mood,
    thanks for sharing this post :)

  • Deborah

    I so very very much agree with this. And Laura’s right – it’s not new. Music and sounds are a huge component of religious practice and ceremony. And I know it makes a huge difference to me and my mood. I’m an artist, and I got so into this that I designed an installation of floating sculptures to be accompanied by a sound loop of tibetan bell tones. I listened to that music the whole time I was making them, and it was incredibly soothing and centering.
    And when I hear commercials, or screaming newscasters, or heavy metal or rap, I feel completely embattled and disorganized mentally. I guess that’s why the military blares it at enemies the way they did in Panama.
    There is now science so sensitive that it has detected the sound of the universe, which is all beautiful tones. And there are the songs of the whales, amazing vibrations.
    I believe that in the beginning, there was The Sound, and it resonates in us, our pulse, our breathing in and out.
    And there’s always Stevie Wonder, who never ever fails to penetrate even my darkest mood.

  • greyworld

    I listen to amped up bassy techno and UK d-n-b to get through some of the valleys of depression. I’m forever embarrassed by what juvenile, primitive music it is… but it’s effective. If you can’t drag yourself into a constructive daily process, maybe trying searching youtube for ‘Fidget mix’ or ‘Dubstep mix’ and try a few out. Works for me.
    Lots of free, legal, good mixes out there once you weed out the inevitable stinkers. Find some headphones tho cause no one else really wants to hear you blasting that crap 😉

  • Elizabeth

    Thanks for sharing this article; this is actually a field I’ve been interested in pursuing. Does anyone know where I can find more information? I can’t seem to find anything. I don’t know who to talk to and where to go. I go in circles using the internet sometimes; plus the fact I deal with depression myself, I easily lose focus. I studied art and have a passion for music; i’ve just always wanted to help bring some type of joy into peoples lives with these methods.

  • Your Name

    The Bible declared the New Song too as the music to honor and praise
    God or Elohim.Music is needed as integral part of our everyday living,music can spice up almost all our emotional state,and i love music.

  • Mike Cucciardi

    So right! Part of my degree is in Music therapy. It can be so very iso-moodic… through the use of music, we can actually (hate this word) manipulate one’s attitute… Musac has done this for years with their ‘elevator’ music… they take popular/recognizable songs and take out the singing, drums, etc. and just leave the soothing music… Businesses like assembly lines often play up-beat music to get the workers to work harder and faster… hmmmm…. subliminal brain manipulation…. what a ‘corporate’ idea!

  • Deb

    I run a postpartum depression support group. Is there music that I should/could by playing that would be especially soothing/healing for the women I work with? Is there a certain rhythm or beat that is best? I would love to have some more information.

  • Susan

    Elizabeth, the University of Kansas has a well regarded Music Therapy department. One of the state schools in Florida also, but my memory fails me as to which one. Good luck!

  • Kathleen

    Regarding Elizabeth’s question. To find information on a career as a Music Therapist go to which is the site for the National Association of Music Therapists.

  • Katie Helms

    A couple of years after my oldest son passed away, I was really having a hard time… My younger son had moved away to take a job in Texas, and I was home-bound caring for my grandmother with Alzheimer’s Disease… I really needed something new in my life… I felt like playing a musical instrument would help, and I wanted something loud enough for my son in Heaven to hear me… :-) So I decided that Bagpipes were my best choice… I started taking lessons, and practicing daily… and wow what a difference it has made in my life… Music is beautiful therapy… Playing the bagpipes is good exercise for the body, its great mental exercise, as we have to memorize our music, and its music, so its just downright good for the Soul…Its been going on two years I’ve been learning the pipes now… and I’ve earned my Kilt and am playing with the Knoxville Pipes and Drums in parades and various events… at home I play music of Praise to my wonderful Lord… and I am doing so much better emotionally….

  • maryann moon

    What an extraordinarily beautiful, most marvelous and soul-moving letter Katie Helms writes.
    I am so inspired at the opportunity to read and to be so moved by her great musical efforts at a most
    difficult instrument, the bagpipes !!!! Now I also want to learn to play some music instrument .
    God bless you, Katie, you’re a magnificent soul!

  • Osifo Osazee

    yes it’s truth music hellp us to steel out of depression, it can be audio vioce or instrument: and it as spiritual out come true our hearing.
    know this that the word of God said that faith comes by hearing, so the things that comes into ouu breal mind and soul have the abelity to enlegeat the rest part of our body. so keepin comply wiht good music can help the wellbeaing of our hearlth.

  • Emily

    As a board-certified music therapist (MT-BC), I would like to correct a point made in the original article. Music therapists are trained through academics (including music, psychology & education), performance on several musical instruments, and hands-on practica and internship, to use music to reach non-musical goals such as increasing emotional expression or decreasing anxiety. Parker-Pope states, “There are two main types of music therapy. Sometimes, a therapist will listen to music with a patient and talk about the feelings or memories that it evokes. In another form, the therapist is a skilled musician and will improvise music with the patient.” In fact, music therapists are trained to use both passive and active techniques and may use both within a single session depending on the client’s treatment goals and abilities.
    For more information on music therapy, as Kathleen mentioned, please go to, which is the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). You can also find information on our board-certification and at Both sites can help you find a qualified music therapist in your area and give more information on the profession.
    @Deb- There isn’t a specific type of music that is healing for all people, or a prescriptive music that would work for your PPD women. Some songs might have emotional value for one woman but bring up unpleasant memories for another. The best thing to do would be to contact a board-certified music therapist (you can find one at AMTA’s website) and consult with him/her on the specific needs of your group. Many music therapists are open to doing guest presentations, such as showing your group how to use music for relaxation.

  • Justaman


  • Music Instruments

    Good discussion here. I think it’ll be a great treatment.

  • Julian

    Hey Emily,
    I’m interested in being a Music Therapist. Is there anyway to contact you so that I can learn a little bit more about it?
    I have always believed in the healing power of music. It can do wondrous things!

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