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Music, the Mind and Healing



You don’t need to be a musician to appreciate the significant impact music can have on our lives. Music can elicit strong memories, calm us, or energize a crowd. Many of us can name certain songs that bring up strong feelings or memories.

The varied benefits of music are well-known and the practice of music therapy has been around a long time. New research is bringing a greater understanding of the many ways music can help improve medical and mental health conditions and quality of life.

Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals, according to the American Music Therapy Association. Music therapy can involve playing music, singing, creating music, moving to music, listening to music, or teaching a person to play music. Therapies can be tailored to address specific disorders or injuries.

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Research has shown that when people listen to music that they prefer they have reduced the need for pain mediation, need less anesthesia, and experience less stress during medical procedures. Music can also help lessen the perception of pain and help alleviate depression in people experiencing chronic pain. Music is used to help people recover when they have lost speech ability because of a stroke or traumatic brain injury. Specific types of music therapy can foster development of alternative neural pathways in healthy parts of the brain when some parts of the brain are damaged.

Music therapy can also help stroke survivors recover motor skills, and the rhythm of music has been used to help people with Parkinson’s initiate movement. Music can increase the effectiveness of physical rehabilitation by helping to motivate people (similar to the way music can help motive you during exercise.)

Ani Patel, psychology professor and author of the “Music, Language and the Mind,” noted in a recent interview on the Diane Rhem show, “the great emotional power of music may be because it doesn’t just activate one emotion system in the brain, it seems to activate almost every single emotion system at the same time in ways that very few other things can.” Patel also noted that music is not a replacement for other treatments, but a way of enhancing aspects of healing.


Music can help people with insomnia. A recent review of research found that music can improve sleep quality in people with insomnia and it has the advantage of being safe and easy to administer. For people with schizophrenia, music relaxation has been found to improve sleep and emotional measures, including depression and anxiety.

Participation in a 10-week group drumming program was found to improve depression, anxiety and social resilience among people receiving mental health services. The improvements were maintained at a 3-month follow-up.

Music has been used extensively to help people with dementia. Music can elicit both memories and emotions and can provide a connection and means of communication when other abilities (language, memory) are declining. Music therapy for people with dementia can reduce anxiety, depression and agitated behavior.

If you’re looking for more information on the power of music therapy or to find a music therapist see the American Music Therapy Association.


  • Jespersen, KV, Koenig, J, et al. 2015. Music for Insomnia in Adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev., 13;(8):CD010459.
  • Bloch, B, Reshef A, et al. 2010. The effects of music relaxation on sleep quality and emotional measure in people living with schizophrenia. J Music Ther, Spring;47(1):27-52M
  • Harvard Women’s Health Watch. 2016. How Music Can Help you Heal. Hole, Jenny, Hirsch, M, et al. 2015. Music as an aid for postoperative recovery in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The Lancet.


AnxietyDissociative DisordersADHDBipolar DisordersIntellectual DisabilitySleep DisordersDepressionAutismPatients and FamiliesHoarding DisorderGender DysphoriaAlzheimer’sOCDPersonality DisordersEating DisordersGambling DisorderSpecific Learning DisorderSomatic Symptom DisorderSchizophreniaAddictionPTSD


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