Updated on 4/13/2023

Music plays a vital role in our daily lives. It brings about a sense of deep connection and wellbeing, both with and without the use of words. We know that music has unique properties for our mental health—but why? This blog explains the way music therapy reduces depressive symptoms, reduces anxiety and improves functioning, and explains its value in treatment for substance use disorders. 

Content reviewed by Christian Losch, LCSW, LCADC, CEO of Pinelands

Many of us have go-to playlists to meet our varying moods, such as an upbeat exercise playlist, a somber chill playlist or even a classical study playlist. We recognize the healing properties that music can have on our moods. However, many of us neglect to understand how music produces benefits for our mental health. To better recognize why treatment centers around the globe are relying on music therapy as a valuable treatment intervention, you must understand the benefits that music has on mental health.

Music therapy positively affects mental health.

Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music to help patients meet individualized treatment goals. It is used in several different treatment facilities to treat a range of physical, behavioral and mental health conditions.

This type of intervention is most effective when combined with traditional psychotherapy treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Similarly, when conventional treatment is used in combination with complementary treatment like music therapy, it makes the experience more effective overall.

Music therapy holds many benefits, including but not limited to:

  • Reducing depressive symptoms
  • Reducing anxiety
  • Improving functioning
  • Maintaining involvement in relationships, jobs and other activities
  • Promoting overall wellness
  • Encouraging emotional expression
  • Improving communication
  • Enhancing memory
  • Alleviating physical and emotional pain

Music is a dynamic outlet.

It is one thing to recognize the benefits that music therapy can have on mental health, and it is another thing to understand how those benefits have come to be. First, music is a valuable emotional outlet.

Listening to music is rarely described as a coping mechanism. Perhaps this is because music’s positive role in our mental health is relatively unconscious. However, there is no question that music is a valuable emotional outlet, as reasons for this include:

  • Lyrics encourage introspection and self-reflection of our own emotions and feelings
  • Melodies can allow us to explain how we feel without trying to do so with words
  • Music often encourages physical movement, which can help to provide emotional relief

Music therapy provides several different approaches, encouraging introspection and expression for a patient. Sometimes attempting to discuss one’s personal problems through traditional treatment may be overwhelming. Music therapy allows patients to explore their thoughts and feelings by writing music, playing music and dancing to music.

Music can reduce distressing mental health symptoms.

Another reason why music therapy is a game-changer for treatment is that it can help reduce a patient’s distressing mental health symptoms, both for children and adults. Music therapists do this by guiding patients through various musical pieces that are known to produce a profound effect on mood. Therapy helps a patient express emotions while experiencing a state of mental relaxation.

Another way to recognize this is by acknowledging that music enhances mindfulness. Your brain is training mindfulness skills by providing your full attention to music or a musical piece. Mindfulness is known to help reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and other distress. Music, in combination with mindfulness, can also enhance interpersonal relationships.

The value of music outside of SUD or mental health treatment is extensive.

Although we have identified music therapy as a valuable treatment option, it is common knowledge that not all of us have access to a music therapist. For individuals that are actively struggling with an SUD or their mental health, music therapy may complement your treatment experience well. Music can still produce incredible effects on mental health for others working on forming healthier habits and coping mechanisms outside of treatment.

You can utilize music outside of treatment by choosing and listening to music genres known to produce a particular effect. For example, if you are looking to lower your stress, you can search for playlists that have evidence of reducing stress levels. Classical music is often recommended for this.

You can also engage with music for self-growth or expressive purposes. For example, set aside time to sit down and listen to a song as intentionally as possible. Listen to a song several times, and focus on a different part of the piece each time. For example, you may focus on the lyrics the first time, whereas you may focus on a specific instrument or sound the second time. As you listen, reflect on how each particular factor makes you feel. This reflection can be a beneficial coping mechanism to distract you from stressors or harmful thought patterns.

Pinelands Recovery Center of Medford is a drug and alcohol treatment center that believes in the value of music for healing. We can help incorporate music into your individualized treatment plan as a healthy cope for distress. We can also help you get connected with music therapy programs. To learn more about the many benefits music has on mental health, call Pinelands today at (877) 557-5372.