Playing or listening to music may boost the effects of conventional treatment

Music has long been known to affect mood—but can it relieve depression? According to some recent studies, music therapy, which typically combines traditional "talk therapy" with listening to music or creating it, may work to alleviate depression in several ways.

Playing an instrument, for example, allows depressed people to express themselves nonverbally when they can't easily talk about how they feel. Listening to soothing music helps others relax so they're better able to let go of feelings that are troubling. Still others may find that sharing a musical experience with a therapist—playing or listening—helps them feel more comfortable discussing their problems and feelings.

Music therapy is either active or receptive, with neither type requiring prior musical background or abilities. In active music therapy, the therapist and the patient improvise, recreate, or compose music using a drum, mallet instrument or the voice.

The goal is for the patient to share thoughts and feelings that arise with the music making and, as a result, develop insight into his or her problems.

In receptive music therapy, patients listen to music while meditating, drawing or reminiscing. This process allows patients to improve their mood and develop coping and relaxation skills. The therapist selects instruments and music based on each patient's individual preferences and needs.

The duration and frequency of music therapy sessions vary, but they typically last 20 minutes to one hour. Patients may undergo sessions daily, weekly or monthly. Sessions can take place in a group or individually in a hospital, therapist's office or patient's home.

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

Published: 19 Jun 2013

Last Modified: 19 Jun 2013