Depression and anxiety disorders are common and the symptoms can be debilitating. There are treatment options that may help you cope with these disorders and get your life back on track. Most treatment plans include a combination of medication and therapy. Therapy may include a variety of approaches. Each type of therapy may have its own focus such as skill training, behavioral modification, or use unique tools to encourage you. Music therapy has been used for many different health conditions and has been shown to provide motivation, communication pathways and emotional support.
Researchers from Norway examined whether music therapy, when added to standard care, decreased symptoms of depression or anxiety in depressed patients. The study, published in British Journal of Psychiatry, found that music therapy did reduce depressive symptoms in adults.
The randomized trial included 79 adults who had been diagnosed with depression. The patients were split into two groups. The first group received standard care plus music therapy and the second group had only standard care. Standard care included short-term psychotherapy sessions led by a nurse specialist, medications, and psychiatric counseling when needed. Music therapy sessions occurred twice per week for 10 weeks.
At three months after treatment, people participating in music therapy had greater improvements in depression symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and general functioning. By six months there were no significant difference between the groups.
Randomized trials are considered one of the most reliable study designs. This trial was small and only followed patients through six months which limits its reliability. However, a previous systematic review found similar benefits with music therapy, namely decreased depressive symptoms and improved daily function. The more studies that have the same results the more likely the results are true. This one trial also suggested that music therapy was most beneficial in early treatment. More trials comparing different types of therapy may help clarify the timing of benefits from music therapy.
Therapy for depression varies from person to person but is often a combination of therapies. If you are struggling with depressive symptoms talk to your doctor or therapist. Changes to you current plan or the addition of an alternative therapy like music therapy may help you reach your goals.
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Gold C, Solli HP, Kruger V, Lie SA. Dose-response relationship in music therapy for people with serious mental disorders: systematic review and meta-analysis.
Clin Psychol Rev. 2009 Apr;29(3):193-207.
Last reviewed February 2012 by Brian P. Randall, MD
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