Music Therapy Research

Some studies of music therapy for depression have been encouraging. A review of five small randomized, controlled trials found that in four of the studies, depressive symptoms were reduced more in patients who participated in music therapy than in those who received standard treatment.

However, the methodological quality of these studies was moderate to poor, and the types of music therapy and standard treatments used and patients studied varied considerably.

In a well-designed 2011 Finnish study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, 79 depressed adults were randomly assigned to receive standard care only or standard care plus 20 sessions of active music therapy over three months. Standard care consisted of psychotherapy, medication and psychiatric counseling.

After three months, patients who received music plus standard care experienced significantly greater improvement in depression and anxiety levels than those treated with standard care only.

As for receptive music therapy, a 2010 study of approximately 200 depressed people found that those who listened to modern music or classical music for 30 minutes twice daily for five weeks had significantly improved scores on several depression rating scales. In a 2011 review of trials in which depressed adults listened to music without interacting with a therapist, participants' symptoms improved in 11 of 17 studies.

Is Music Therapy Right for You?

Although music therapy appears to be helpful, it's likely most suitable as an add-on to traditional therapies such as medication and other forms of psychotherapy. Anyone receiving treatment for depression should first discuss the use of music therapy with his or her health care provider.

To find a qualified music therapist who has received the proper training, ask your health care provider or contact the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) at 301-589-3300 or The AMTA offers a directory of Music Therapist-Board Certified (MT-BC) practitioners at

Other recognized credentials are Registered Music Therapist (RMT), Certified Music Therapist (CMT) and Advanced Certified Music Therapist (ACMT).

Publication Review By: Karen L. Swartz, M.D.

Published: 19 Jun 2013

Last Modified: 19 Jun 2013