In Addiction, ADHD, Alternative Medicine Systems, Anxiety, Auditory Stimulation, Behavioral Activation, Brain Health (Prevention), Concentration Difficulties, Dementia, Depression, Hallucinations, Mental Health, Mind-Body Medicine, Nervous System, Paranoia, Psychosis, Stress Reduction, Uncategorized

About the Guest Author: Student Doctor Kaley Canova-Gaitros is in her final year of medical school at Kansas City University College of Osteopathic Medicine.  She will be starting a Psychiatry residency at the University of Arizona-Tucson in Summer 2021.

Music Therapy as an Alternative to Traditional Methods

Depression and anxiety are very common health concerns and may be especially prevalent in certain populations with co-morbid medical problems.  Although allopathic medications such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) and anxiolytics (anti-anxiety medications) are commonly used to treat these health concerns, such medications often do not fully or adequately address these diagnoses.  For example, more than one-third of patients diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder fail to respond to SSRIs, and studies have shown that cognitive behavioral therapy only resulted in a 30% response rate (Atiwannapat et al., 2016).  Considering the poor response to conventional treatments, other therapeutic modalities are being increasingly studied, including music therapy. 

Historical Application of Music Therapy on Patients with Depression and Anxiety

Music therapy has been studied across several populations with co-morbid disease or injury.  Among patients with Alzheimer’s disease, depression and stress levels were measured with the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) and salivary cortisol levels, which demonstrated a statistically significant reduction in symptoms after one session of music therapy (de la Rubia Orti et al., 2018).  

One study, conducted on thirteen patients with history of traumatic brain injury, administered music therapy sessions over the course of twenty weeks and showed that mood significantly improved with 39% and 25% relative improvement in anxiety and depression, respectively, with an enhanced effect as the weeks progressed (Guetin et al., 2009).  Another study evaluated the effect of music therapy on hemodialysis patients, in which the sample had a 60.8% prevalence of depression.  After the music therapy intervention, prevalence of depressive symptoms was reduced to 21.7% and quality of life measures also improved in these patients (Hagemann & Martin, 2019).  

Ribiero et al. (2018) conducted a randomized clinical trial to evaluate the effectiveness of music therapy on mothers of preterm babies with anxiety and depression, and found that music therapy improved mood symptoms in these mothers.  It further demonstrated evidence of increased parasympathetic activity and relaxation associated with cardiac stability, as well as decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.  

Conclusion? Turn up the radio, it’s time to blast those tunes!

After reviewing the literature regarding the effect of music therapy on anxiety and depression, it appears that music therapy is a promising treatment worthy of use, at minimum, as an adjunct to other treatments. Many types of music therapy have been studied, including active and receptive therapies, which have both shown significant symptom reduction in patients with major depressive disorder, with a possible dose-dependent response when using active music therapy (Atiwannapat et al., 2016).

In a meta-analysis of 55 randomized clinical trials, music therapy was found to have moderate to strong effects on depression, with the strongest effect from recreative music therapy and music therapy with guided imagery (Tang et al., 2020). Interestingly, music medicine (defined as listening to prerecorded music, not involving a therapist) was shown to have a superior effect to music therapy (Tang et al., 2020).

In conclusion, music therapy has shown to have clinically significant effects on a wide variety of patients with depression and anxiety and is worthy of being utilized in the treatment of these mental health concerns while at the same time having minimal risk of harm to the patient. Additionally, considering the strong evidence supporting music medicine to reduce depressive symptoms, this is a cost effective and accessible recommendation for patients with mood disorders.


For more information, check out the resources below!




1. Atiwannapat, P., Thaipisuttikul, P., Poopityastaporn, P., & Katekaew, W. (2016, June). Active versus receptive group music therapy for major depressive disorder-A pilot study. Complementary therapies in medicine, 26, 141-145.

2. de la Rubia Ortí, J.E., García-Pardo, M.P., Iranzo, C.C., Madrigal, J.J.C., Castillo, S.S., Rochina, M.J., & Gascó, V.J.P. (2018, January). Does Music Therapy Improve Anxiety and Depression in Alzheimer’s Patients? Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 24(1), 33-36.

3. Guétin, S., Soua, B., Voiriot, G., Picot, M.C., & Hérisson, C. (2009, February). The effect of music therapy on mood and anxiety-depression: An observational study in institutionalised patients with traumatic brain injury. Annals of physical and rehabilitation medicine, 52(1), 30-40.

4. Hagemann PMS, Martin LC, Neme CMB. The effect of music therapy on hemodialysis patients’ quality of life and depression symptoms. J Bras Nefrol. 2019 Jan-Mar;41(1):74-82. doi: 10.1590/2175-8239-jbn-2018-0023. Epub 2018 Sep 13. PMID: 30222176; PMCID: PMC6534034.

5. Ribeiro, M.K.A., Alcântara-Silva, T.R.M., Oliveira, J.C.M., Paula, T.C., Dutra, J.B.R., Pedrino, G.R., Simões, K., Sousa, R.B., & Rebelo, A.C.S. (2018, December 13). Music therapy intervention in cardiac autonomic modulation, anxiety, and depression in mothers of preterms: Randomized controlled trial. BMC psychology, 6(1), 57.

6. Tang Q, Huang Z, Zhou H, Ye P. Effects of music therapy on depression: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS One. 2020 Nov 18;15(11):e0240862. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0240862. PMID: 33206656; PMCID: PMC7673528.

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