Reflections & Insight

Can Music Tame Your Inner Beast? Music Therapy for Mental Health

Music can affect a person’s thoughts, feelings and behavior and has been shown to assist with managing stress, expressing emotion and improving communication.

Music therapy — the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals — helps people with understanding and developing self-identity, promoting quality of life and maintaining well-being.

So how does music therapy work to help someone with their mental health concerns?

Music therapy can be used with children, adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities and mental health needs as well as seniors affected by age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. For individuals with mental health conditions, such as ADHD, mood disorders, depression, PTSD and schizophrenia, the objective of music therapy is to approach issues that may not be addressed using words alone.

The ultimate goals are to effect changes in behavior and facilitate development of skills.

Five common interventions associated with music therapy are:


Songwriting can provide the opportunity for individuals with a mental health condition to express moods, thoughts and emotions. Music therapists assist individuals in songwriting by combining rhythm and melody with simple, structured ways of writing song lyrics. Song lyrics can be generated through filling in the blanks of an existing song with an individual’s own emotions or creating a simple poem.

Lyric analysis.

Analyzing song lyrics can help individuals identify emotions. A music therapist asks the individual to point out words or phrases in a song that are meaningful to him or her. This can lead to a discussion that reveals an issue the individual is having.Another lyric analysis technique relates a specific song’s lyrics to the individual’s life. This allows the individual to explore their emotions in a deeper way.


Improvisation is a self-expression technique in which the individual and music therapist relate to each other through creating music extemporaneously. The individual may use any musical or nonmusical medium within his or her capabilities including voice, body, sound, percussion, images and stories. This technique also includes evaluation and analysis to fully understand the emotions being displayed and charts a course for modified behavioral improvements.


Listening involves the individual taking in and reacting to live or recorded music. The listening experience may focus on physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual aspects of the music, and the individual may respond through activities such as relaxation or meditation, structured or free movement, telling stories or drawing.

Playing instruments.

Playing an instrument can give individuals who have trouble communicating an easy, gratifying way to express their thoughts and emotions. It also may help develop motor skills, as it requires hand-eye coordination. Playing music can be considered a joyful way of communicating with one’s inner self and with others, and learning to play an instrument is good for brain power, memory, social skills, confidence and creativity.

The mental health treatment journey comprises many different treatment modalities. Music therapy serves as a complement to other therapies, building upon therapeutic goals to increase physical, emotional, cognitive and social functioning. Music therapy plays an important role in the interdisciplinary approach.

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