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

Music Therapy Improves Mental Health


People of all ages relate to and enjoy music, making it a universal language, of sorts. However, its value can go far beyond simply listening. In older adults with Alzheimer’s, dementia, and other mental health conditions, music therapy has been found to significantly decrease agitation, aggression, and other symptoms of dementia; along with improving mood, socialization, and cooperation with daily tasks—like dressing and bathing.

Related: 8 Surprising Ways Music Benefits Your Brain

Music can also be used as sensory and intellectual stimulation, which can help maintain a person’s quality of life or even improve it as it gives them an avenue for communication.10


From fussy infants to older adults with insomnia—calming music, like classical or nature sounds—can significantly improve the quality of sleep. Insufficient rest leads to daytime dysfunction and exhaustion, too, of course.

Some experts say music therapy is as effective as sleeping pills in inducing sleep or tranquil states, as evidenced by sleep EEG testing, a study reported in The Journal of PeriAnesthesia Nursing.11 

Lack of sleep can significantly impact mood. A University of Pennsylvania found that subjects who were limited to only 4.5 hours of sleep a night, for 7 days, reported feeling more mentally exhausted, stressed, sad, and angry. However, when the subjects went back to a normal sleep schedule, study participants reported dramatic improvement in mood.

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


“Music is the one thing that transcends all human emotion,” says Clive Robbins, a psychologist who is co-director of the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Clinic at New York University, and one of the pioneers in the rapidly growing field, when interviewed by the New York Times. Medications while possibly effective, carry side effects, which can be particularly challenging when treating children.

Other therapies can also help, but may not spark as much engagement and connection. Robbins has found that when other methods fail, music therapy can be an effective way to reach emotionally-disturbed children. ”Music motivates kids who do not communicate to somehow make contact,” he says.

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


It’s not just humans that are impacted behaviorally by music. In a 2012 study published in The Journal of Veterinary Behavior, researchers from Colorado State University observed the behavior of 117 dogs—from activity levels to vocalizations and more. The veterinarians played several types of music to the pooches, from classical, heavy metal, and an altered form of classical music.

As a control, they also observed the behavior when no music was playing. And here’s what they found: the pooches slept the most when listening to all kinds of classical music, an indication that it relaxed them. But (this is likely not going to shock you)—had the opposite reaction when listening to heavy metal, as demonstrated by increased body shaking, a sign of canine anxiety.

Article Sources:

1. The Phrase Finder. The Meaning and Origin of the Expression: Music has Charms to Soothe the Savage Breast. Available at:  Accessed June 13, 2019.

2. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). The Impact of Music Therapy on Mental Health. Available at: Accessed June 13, 2019.

3. Thaut MH. Music as therapy in early history. Prog Brain Res 2015;217:143-158

4. Goldsby TL. Effects of Singing Bowl Sound Meditation on Mood, Tension, and Well-being: An Observational Study. J. Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017 Jul;22(3):401-406.

5. American Music Therapy Association. History of Music Therapy. Available at: Accessed June 13, 2019.

6. Crocq MA. From shell shock and war neurosis to posttraumatic stress disorder: a history of psychotraumatology. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2000;2(1):47–55.

7. do Amaral MA. Effect of music therapy on blood pressure of individuals with hypertension: A systematic review and Meta-analysis. Int J Cardiol. 2016 Jul 1;214:461-4.

8. Aalbers S. Music therapy for depression. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Nov 16;11:CD004517.

9. Stegemann T.  Music Therapy and Other Music-Based Interventions in Pediatric Health Care: An Overview. Medicines.  2019 Feb 14;6(1). pii: E25.

10. Weise L. Study protocol: individualized music for people with dementia – improvement of quality of life and social participation for people with dementia in institutional care. BMC Geriatr. 2018 Dec 14;18(1):313.

11. Loewy J. Sleep/sedation in children undergoing EEG testing: a comparison of chloral hydrate and music therapy. Am J Electroneurodiagnostic Technol. 2006 Dec;46(4):343-55.

Written by: Karina Margit Erdelyi

Originally appeared on Psycom
Republished with permission.

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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