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Music and mental health

Music therapy can have many influences on mental health, as one less-traditional form of treatment for mental illness.

Treatments for mental illnesses can be very wide ranging, from psychotherapy, to medications, to exercise and diet.

One less traditional type of treatment is music therapy, which can involve anything from listening to the creation of music in an effort to ease symptoms of certain disorders.

Although at first, it may seem to be a very unusual way of working with mental health, anyone who has ever listened to music knows that it can have a very strong effect on our emotions.

Several studied have been done on the topic of music and mental health.

PTSD and Music Relaxation

A study from 2012 aimed to see how effective music relaxation would be in alleviating symptoms of insomnia, depression and anxiety, and symptom severity in people experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.1

This study, which was conducted in Israel, included 13 participants who experience PTSD who were assigned to either music relaxation treatment or muscle relaxation techniques. Both types of relaxation were conducted through the use of a CD recording.

The muscle relaxation treatment involved a relaxation of muscles according to the Jacobson’s method, in which muscles are tightened and the relaxed in a particular sequence. The music relaxation treatment consisted of music that was composed for the study, and was characterized by slow melody, with piano, violin, and bells, and was 10-minutes in length (repeating four times). 

The researchers found that the group that has undergone music treatment showed significant improvement in their ability to fall asleep. In addition, the same group also experienced a reduction in symptoms of depression, and this was found to be strongly related with their ability to fall asleep.

Music Creation Therapy for People with Severe Mental Illness

Another study looked at a different form of treatment for mental illness. In particular, a study conducted in 2018 looked at how a music creation program would be able to assist with symptoms of anxiety, self-esteem, and the quality of life of people living with severe mental illness.2

The study, which was conducted in the United States and Taiwan, included 49 participants. The participants were assigned to two different groups, where one group underwent a control treatment, and the other group underwent a music creation session once per week for 32 weeks.

The music creation program involved weekly sessions of 90 minutes, and the participants were to create a song every two to three weeks. During the process of the creation, the participants were asked to reflect on how the song made them feel, which promoted the experiential aspect of the activity, as opposed to showcasing their musical abilities.

Here, the researchers found, that the group that was assigned to music creation showed significant improvements in their levels of anxiety and self-esteem when compared to the control group. In addition, the music creation group showed more improvement in quality of life ratings than did the control group. The researchers suggest that music creation programs are recommended to be included as part of the rehabilitation activities of patients with severe mental illness.

Group Music Therapy for People with Concurrent Disorders

One study examined how group music therapy affects the emotional well-being of people with concurrent disorders.3 Concurrent disorders is a term that describes the presence of a mental illness in combination with a substance-use disorder.

In this study, 49 residents of a residential unit were assigned to treatment groups where they would engage in composition, receptive listening, re-creation (performance), and improvisation.

Conducted in the United States, each group session was 45-minutes in length, and consisted of a warm-up activity, and one of several other activities. Such activities included song composition, listening and song discussions, recreation and performance, and vocal improvisations.

The results of this study showed that the nearly one-third of the participants who were involved in the treatment had a significant reduction in anxiety, sadness, and anger. While this study shows promising results, the researchers did not include a control group, which may influence the way these results can be understood.

As can be seen from all of these studies, music therapy has  potential for benefiting patients suffering from a wide range of mental health issues. As such, the promotion of music therapy in treatment settings may be very effective as a supplementary treatment.

Music and mental health have a lot of correlations, it appears, and the idea that music can influence the way we feel, as well as the way we perceive and relate to our feelings, can have a very important impact on our emotional well-being. As more comprehensive studies become available, it may become clearer whether particular types of music therapy can be more effective for certain populations, and whether there are types of setting where it can be most beneficial.

However, even with the studies that have been conducted to date, it is clear that people suffering from mental health concerns can benefit from such forms of treatment.


  • Blanaru, M., Bloch, B., Vadas, L., Arnon, Z., Ziv, N., Kremer, I., & Haimov, I. (2012). The effects of music relaxation and muscle relaxation techniques on sleep quality and emotional measures among individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder. Mental Illness, 4(2), 59–65.
  • Chang, B., Chen, B., Beckstead, J., & Yang, C. (2018). Effects of a music‐creation programme on the anxiety, self‐esteem, and quality of life of people with severe mental illness: A quasi‐experimental design. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 27(3), 1066–1076.
  • Gardstrom, S., Bartkowski, J., Willenbrink, J., & Diestelkamp, W. (2013). The impact of group music therapy on negative affect of people with co-occurring substance use disorders mental Illnesses. Music Therapy Perspectives, 31(2), 116–126.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Maor Bernshtein
Maor Bernshtein
Maor is currently working on his BSc in psychology from York University in Toronto, Canada. He is interested in psychological research and likes to analyze results and apply them to everyday life. Maor has previously volunteered for The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and is passionate about bringing psychological knowledge back to the people. He hopes that others can benefit from psychological insights through his work and improve their overall life and well-being.


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