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A Skeptic's Guide to Music Therapy | Dr. Wasif Yasin, MD

Have you ever been in a bad mood at your work, when all of a sudden you hear a song and you feel happy and relaxed? While many hospitals use music therapy to help patients cope with their depression, anxiety, pain, or any illness, there are people that are not so convinced with the legitimacy of music as a healing tool. This skepticism has made them believe that music therapy is nothing but a placebo or hoax.

In this article, we’ll prove the validity of music therapy by using scientific research. The article aims to make people firmly agree that music therapy really has powerful effects on your body and mind. Let’s talk about what music therapy is.

What Is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is an evidence-based, goal-oriented, and clinical treatment that improves individualized goals, such as improving mood and reducing stress. Activities involved in music therapy include singing, listening, playing an instrument, and composing music.

Music therapy has helped many people struggling with depression, anxiety, cancer, traumatic injuries, or illness. Music therapy is geared at providing improved mental and physical health. You don’t need to have an musical background to experience the benefits of music therapy. Music therapy has helped:

· Individuals with mental health disorders

· People suffering from chronic illness or pain

· Victims of crisis and trauma

· People in correctional settings

· People with Dementia

· People with development or intellectual delays

· Substance abusers [1]

· People with brain injuries

How Does Music Therapy Work?

How music affects the brain is pretty complex. Different areas of the brain process different aspects of music, including melody, tempo, and pitch. For example, emotional signals created by song or music are decoded by the frontal lobes of the brain. The pitch of the music is understood by the temporal lobe, and rhythm is processed by the cerebellum.

You may have gotten goosebumps when you hear powerful music. Well, such strong physical signs of sadness and pleasure are produced by the nucleus accumbens – the reward center of the brain [2].

A Short-List Of Music Therapy’s Benefits:

You can experience the following benefits when you engage in music:

· Encouraged feelings of calmness or security

· Relief from stress and anxiety

· Released endorphins

· Improved communication for young people and children with developmental disabilities [3].

· Improved motor skills

· Activation in brain regions that control things like memory, mood, emotions, and sensory relay [4].

Silencing Skeptics By Key Findings From Clinical Studies To Prove The Legitimacy Of Music Therapy:

The following are some papers and discussions about the seriousness of the work in music therapy that can make you believe that music must be widely practiced. How music has helped people improve their physical and mental health:

Pain Management:

There are a lot of research studies that have proven the potential strategy of music therapy for managing pain in all age groups. Substantial evidence has shown that listening to music can help patients (healing from an injury or surgery) cope with physical pain [5].

Music therapy has helped patients with:

1. Surgery: Music therapy paired with post-operative care in hospitals has improved hypertension, anxiety, pain levels, and heart rate in people after surgery [6].

2. Childbirth: Childbirth assisted with music therapy has been proven to be an accessible and cheerful option for improving depression and anxiety for laboring women [7].

3. Chronic Conditions: According to a study, long-term music therapy has helped people focus on positive thoughts who had long-term distressed pain symptoms.


Diagnosed with cancer and going through cancer treatment like chemotherapy is a physically as well as emotionally painful experience. People with cancer need emotional support and care. Music therapy has been very helpful in coping with the side effects of chemotherapy (depression, nausea, etc.). Also, cancer patients undergoing radiation treatments have experienced improvements in their anxiety levels with music therapy [8].

Patients, after their cancer diagnosis, treatment, or even remission, may often experience depression. Music therapy has also provided emotional support to help improve symptoms of depression.


Research studies have shown that music therapy and even white noise has helped insomniac people help asleep and fall asleep. Unlike prescribed treatments and pharmaceuticals, music therapy is more affordable, non-invasive, and something an individual can access on their own to manage their sleep disorders with guidance from a board-certified music therapist [9].


Many studies have found that people undergoing music therapy paired with standard treatment for depression have noticed improvements in depressive symptoms. Music therapy releases hormones, such as endorphins and dopamine that improve mood, make you feel good, and relieve pain.

Although depression cannot be completely cured by music therapy, it can encourage self-expression and connection and improve mood for the short term [10] and create new coping strategies to last a lifetime.

Another research study published in 2016 reported that music therapy combined with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helped people with depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts [11].

Does Music Therapy Affect Children Too?

In children, music therapy has the following benefits:

· Strengthening family relationships

· Increasing self-awareness

· Encouraging creative play

· Building language and listening skills

· Improving coordination and concentration

· Building resilience and self-esteem

· Practicing communication skills and social interactions.

Writing music, playing music, and music lessons can increase brain function in children, but more research is needed to prove the promising results of music therapy on children.

Putting It All Together:

Even if you’re doubtful about the efficiency of music therapy, you can’t deny the fact that one good piece of music has the power to improve your mood and energy. From my personal experience, I firmly believe that different chords of music tend to release endorphins from your body. Major chords can make you happy and refreshed. Minor chords can make you cry for reasons you cannot cry.

Despite all this skepticism, we all should strive to grow a large base of information where we're constantly working to improve ourselves. If you question music therapy as a valuable field, you shouldn't be afraid to do the research because research will lead you to gain new information to improve yourself and turn to a therapy that is less invasive, affordable, and without any dangerous side effects.

Want to get a creative direction? Head to our website for more information.

Written and Medical reviewed by:

Dr. Wasif Yasin, MD.

General Physician


[1] Brandes V. Music as medicine: incorporating scalable music-based interventions into standard medical practice BT - Music that works: Contributions of biology, neurophysiology, psychology, sociology, medicine and musicology. In: Haas R, Brandes V, editors., Vienna: Springer Vienna; 2009, p. 83–103.

[2] Stegemöller EL. Exploring a Neuroplasticity Model of Music Therapy. J Music Ther 2014;51:211–27.

[3] Pavlicevic M, O’Neil N, Powell H, Jones O, Sampathianaki E. Making music, making friends: Long-term music therapy with young adults with severe learning disabilities. J Intellect Disabil 2013;18:5–19.

[4] Altenmüller E, Schlaug G. Chapter 12 - Apollo’s gift: new aspects of neurologic music therapy. In: Altenmüller E, Finger S, Boller FBT-P in BR, editors. Music. Neurol. Neurosci. Evol. Music. Brain, Med. Cond. Ther., vol. 217, Elsevier; 2015, p. 237–52.

[5] Redding J, Plaugher S, Cole J, Crum J, Ambrosino C, Hodge J, et al. “Where’s the Music?” Using Music Therapy for Pain Management. Fed Pract 2016;33:46–9.

[6] Liu Y, Petrini MA. Effects of music therapy on pain, anxiety, and vital signs in patients after thoracic surgery. Complement Ther Med 2015;23:714–8.

[7] McCaffrey T, Cheung PS, Barry M, Punch P, Dore L. The role and outcomes of music listening for women in childbirth: An integrative review. Midwifery 2020;83:102627.

[8] Rossetti A, Chadha M, Torres BN, Lee JK, Hylton D, Loewy J V, et al. The Impact of Music Therapy on Anxiety in Cancer Patients Undergoing Simulation for Radiation Therapy. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 2017;99:103–10.

[9] Wang C-F, Sun Y-L, Zang H-X. Music therapy improves sleep quality in acute and chronic sleep disorders: A meta-analysis of 10 randomized studies. Int J Nurs Stud 2014;51:51–62.

[10] Aalbers S, Fusar-Poli L, Freeman RE, Spreen M, Ket JC, Vink AC, et al. Music therapy for depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2017;11:CD004517–CD004517.

[11] Trimmer C, Tyo R, Naeem F. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy-Based Music (CBT-Music) Group for Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression. Can J Community Ment Heal 2016;35:83–7.

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