The Healing Power of Music: How Music Therapy Improves Mental Health

Music Therapy Improves Mental Health

On the heels of that success, the National Association for Music Therapy was formed in 1950 (now called the American Music Therapy Association). This group helped further important research in this burgeoning field.


Here’s the skinny: melody, harmony, and rhythm stimulate the senses, which affects our breathing, heart rate, and other bodily functions. Music can promote a sense of tranquility—or it can rev you up. Music therapy, particularly when combined with talk therapy, boosts levels of the “feel-good hormone” dopamine. Associated with feelings of euphoria, motivation, bliss, and concentration, music can play a part in improving a number of symptoms, notably depression. The music used in therapy is typically tailored to the needs of the patient—and often times, several combinations of music are used.


There are two general kinds of music therapy: active and passive. Active music therapy techniques include engaging the client in singing, music composition, and instrument playing. The patient is encouraged to share thoughts and feelings that arise from creating the composition. The goal? For the patient to glean insights into his/her problems.

Passive therapy, on the other hand, involves listening to music while doing some kind of reflective activity like drawing or meditation. Afterward the therapist and patient discuss the feelings and memories conjured up by the experience. According to the American Music Therapy Association, active music therapy is used more often in clinical settings.


Tuning forks were invented to create a pure tone and a way for musicians to tune their instruments. During the last 40 years however, tuning forks have become tools in medicine and alternative therapies.

These calibrated metal forks are used to apply vibrations to different parts of the body, with the aim of releasing tension and pent up energy in order to foster emotional balance. It’s similar to acupuncture but instead of using needles to stimulate a bodily response, sound frequencies are employed. Research suggests that tuning fork therapy can also relieve muscle and bone pain—conditions that often accompany anxiety and depression.

Related: 20+ Best Meditation Music For Relief From Stress and Anxiety


The Healing Power of Music: How Music Therapy Improves Mental Health
The Healing Power of Music: How Music Therapy Improves Mental Health

The great news? Research has shown that music therapy is beneficial for many mental health disorders, such as depression, PTSD, trauma, autism, schizophrenia. Music can help someone process emotions—particularly from trauma and grief—and can be a calming balm for anxiety. But the type of music matters.

Different music evokes different neurological responses: classical music, as you might suspect is comforting and relaxing, while rock music is energizing. There are physical benefits as well. Research on music therapy and blood pressure, published in The International Journal of Cardiology, showed that music therapy can decrease systolic blood pressure, which reduces the risk of stroke.7


We all have moments of sadness, loss, loneliness—these passing emotions are part of the human condition. Depression is something different. It’s a pervasive, persistent mood disorder characterized by despair, diminished interest, and loss of pleasure. Left untreated, depression impairs the ability to function.

More than 7% of Americans are depressed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention so finding an effective treatment is important. One huge advantage of music therapy: no side effects. Plus, it can be used in conjunction with other forms of treatment to improve mood, lessen anxiety and help return a person’s ability to function again.8

Related: The Power of Beats: A Look Into the Psychological Effects of Music


Music can be used to foster verbal and nonverbal communication skills for people on the autism spectrum. Music therapists also use music to improve sensory issues, social skills, self-reliance, cognitive ability, and motor skills.

Music that resonates with an individual allows for a more personal connection that fosters trust with the therapist and many successfully use it to reward desired behaviors and responses.

A meta-study concluded other benefits such as increased attention to tasks, better vocabulary comprehension and improved social behavior all through music.9

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Karina Margit Erdelyi

An award-winning creator and digital health, wellness, and lifestyle strategist, Karina writes, edits, and produces compelling content across multiple platforms, including articles, video, interactive tools, and documentary film. Her work has been featured on Apartment Therapy, Goop, Pregnancy & Newborn, thirdAGE, and Remedy Health Media digital properties.View Author posts