Music Therapy: 5 Examples of How This Unique Therapy Works

Music Therapy Can Be a Powerful Therapeutic Tool.  Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash
Music Therapy Can Be a Powerful Therapeutic Tool. Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash

Have you ever had a rough day, and when you got home, you put on relaxing music to make yourself feel better? Have you ever had a big presentation or performance and played your favorite music to get motivated?

Music has a powerful ability to help us connect with our emotions and change how we feel. Psychologists have used this quality of music to develop therapies for a variety of conditions.  

Music Therapy is a unique and low-pressure way to help patients open up about and process difficult emotions, which can be especially effective when combined with other therapies and medicinal interventions.

What Exactly is Music Therapy?

According to the American Music Therapy Association, Music Therapy is “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals …in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.”

A Music Therapist will begin by assessing the needs of the individual. Based on this assessment, they may recommend music-related activities, including listening to music, singing, dancing/moving with the rhythm, or even writing and creating music.

There is also a growing body of research that supports the use of music as a therapeutic tool due to its effects on physical movement, memory, emotions, and motivation.

What is Music Therapy Used For?

How Does Music Therapy Help?  Photo by Blaz Erzetic on Unsplash
How Does Music Therapy Help? Photo by Blaz Erzetic on Unsplash

Music Therapy can be a useful tool for helping children, adolescents, and adults with a variety of mental health needs, such as depression, anxiety, or PTSD; with age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia; with developmental or behavioral disorders such as ADHD or dyslexia; with physical disabilities or chronic pain; or with a variety of other issues such a substance abuse problems.

Though Music Therapy can be used for a wide range of issues, here are just a few examples of how a licensed mental health professional can use Music Therapy to treat patients with a variety of mental health conditions:

Examples of Music Therapy for Depression

Music Therapy, as part of a holistic treatment approach, has shown success in helping patients living with depression.

In a study conducted by Field, Martinez, Nawrocki, Pickens, Fox, & Schanberg, adolescents suffering from depression who were exposed to music therapy experienced a significant decrease in levels of the stress hormone Cortisol, as well as a shift in brain activity, recorded with EEG, to regions associated with positive feelings.

Examples of Music Therapy for Anxiety

Many people turn to music as a way to relieve stress during their day. But, there is actually scientific research that supports the idea that music therapy provides significant relief for stress and anxiety.

According to the Portland Music Therapy organization, Music Therapy is often used in conjunction with progressive muscle relaxation techniques to help reduce anxiety and overall levels of stress in patients. By combining the physical relaxation associated with progressive muscle relaxation and the mental relaxation associated with music therapy, patients are able to reduce anxiety and learn to relax.

Examples of Music Therapy for Autism

For people living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Music Therapy is an effective method for enhancing “social, communicative, motor/sensory, emotional, and academic/cognitive functioning,” according to the American Music Therapy Association.

Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder often exhibit an increased aptitude for music memory and sensitivity to musical elements. Music Therapists are able to use this increased ability to engage with music to create connections, build positive behaviors, and understand the emotional and mental state of patients with ADS.

The use of music can be especially helpful for patients who are non-verbal or who have difficulty communicating with others.

Examples of Music Therapy for Dementia & Alzheimer’s Disease

We have a unique ability to remember music much better than many other types of information. This is especially true of the emotions and contextual information that we assign to the memories of music.

Many patients who suffer from memory loss are able to recall information related to songs and music well beyond the point they are able to remember other information. Music Therapists are able to use this enhanced recollection associated with music to help patients who have Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Music Therapy has also been shown to aid in increasing social interaction with caregivers and family members and boosting communication ability.

Examples of Music Therapy for PTSD

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is another area where Music Therapy has shown promising success. Research out of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs looked into how Music Therapy could benefit individuals living with the aftereffects of traumatic events and found that the use of music-based therapies may be a “useful therapeutic tool to reduce symptoms and improve functioning among individuals with trauma exposure…”

Furthermore, they found that Music Therapy may increase resilience and may act as a way to engage with individuals who may be resistant to, or who struggle with stigma associated with seeking treatment.


Music Therapy is a unique option for treating patients that is both non-threatening and engaging. It can be effective for a variety of cases and can serve as a way to connect with individuals who may be resistant to treatment or who have difficulty communicating or expressing their thoughts and feelings. If you think Music Therapy is a treatment option that sounds appealing for you or a loved one, please reach out to a healthcare professional or a trained, licensed Music Therapist near you for more information.

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