The Intersection Between Music and Medicine

NPR’s Robert Siegel, host of All Things Considered, recently spoke with the director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, and Renee Fleming, world renowned soprano and Artistic Advisor at Large at the Kennedy Center. Their conversation centered on the work they are doing jointly to advance the study of music and medicine.

This weekend both Collins and Fleming will be collaborating at Sound Health, a two-day event exploring connections between music, health, wellness and science.

Listen to, or read, their ideas on how the brain responds to music.


Early Childhood Mental Health: A Growing Concern

Early childhood mental health is a growing concern.

Meredith Pizzi leads a Sprouting Melodies class.

Often misunderstood, early childhood mental health is also overlooked or underestimated. Research shows that exposure to ongoing toxic stress in early childhood can have significant impacts on development early in life, and may lead to long term consequences in education, health and financial prosperity. Continue reading “Early Childhood Mental Health: A Growing Concern”

Music Therapy and Mental Health

Meaning of LifeMusic therapy has been recognized and supported in the mental health field for many years. In the early history of music therapy, musicians worked with veterans from World War 2 playing songs in hospitals or rehabs. These musicians and surrounding staff saw noticeable changes in the veterans mood and affect. The field has grown largely since then, working with a range of demographics, disabilities, in such settings as; mental health, special education, hospice, nursing homes, and hospitals.

One study done in Finland, at the Music Therapy Clinic for Research and Training, was conducted with 79 adult participants ranging in age from 18 – 50. Each participant had been diagnosed with unipolar depression. The participants were given a baseline psychiatric assessment at the beginning of treatment and at a 3 month and 6 month follow up to assess progress. There were two groups of patients, one group received music therapy and standard care, and one group received standard care solely which consisted of 5-6 short term psychotherapy interventions, medications, and counseling.

The participants receiving individual music therapy treatment were encouraged to express themselves musically through improvisation and playing with a psychodynamic music therapy approach which involves using the exploration of instruments, to encourage self-expression. In this approach of music therapy, the therapist and participant create a relationship through the music to delve deeper into the relationship. Participants in this study received 20 bi-weekly individual music therapy sessions for 60 minutes each. Participants were offered various choices of percussive instruments, and encouraged to improvise by themselves and with the music therapist.

In this study, participants receiving music therapy showed greater improvements in all of the areas assessed; depression symptoms,  anxiety symptoms, and general functioning. The results concluded that music therapy, was an effective method of treatment along with standard care when confronting depression.

How does music therapy work as part of mental health treatment?

Music therapy in the means of mental health relies on music for communication and expression. Music therapy looks beyond verbal expression, allowing participants to find their voice in the music, in a time where it may not be easy to find the right words to say.  Music therapy in mental health settings includes interventions such as musical improvisation, song writing, music listening, and lyric analysis.

Why does it work?

Music therapy uses a participants personal relationship with music to access and create meaningful experiences. The American Music Therapy Association lists possible ways that music therapy can reinforce positive outcomes in the treatment of mental health needs.

  • Explore personal feelings and therapeutic issues such as self-esteem or personal insight
  • Make positive changes in mood and emotional states
  • Have a sense of control over life through successful experiences
  • Enhance awareness of self and environment
  • Express oneself both verbally and non-verbally
  • Develop coping and relaxation skills
  • Support healthy feelings and thoughts
  • Improve reality testing and problem solving skills
  • Interact socially with others
  • Develop independence and decision making skills
  • Improve concentration and attention span
  • Adopt positive forms of behavior
  • Resolve conflicts leading to stronger family and peer relationships

Music therapy should not replace standard care, or psychotherapy, however the research provided proves that music therapy is a positive addition to standard care, increasing a person’s opportunities for living a successful and fulfilling life.


Erikka, J., Punkanen, M., Fachner, J., Ala-Ruona, E., Pontio, I., Tervaniemi, M., Vanhala, M., & Gold, C. (2011). Individual music therapy for depression: randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Psychiatry , Retrieved from

Music Therapy in Mental Health – Evidence-Based Practice Support (2021). Retrieved from

Music Therapy for Adults with Mental Health and Substance Use Conditions (2021). Retrieved from