What Can Music Do For Your Depression?

It has never been easier to listen to music. The distribution of music via Internet through smartphone apps or streaming services has dramatically changed the way people interact with music on a daily basis. Whether in the car, at work, at the gym, or while doing chores, people in general spend a lot of time listening to music.  New consumer research has shown that on average 68% of smartphone owners stream and listen to music for at least 45 minutes each day. Another survey revealed that 2 in 3 people listen to music in the workplace with the intention to boost mood and creativity.

The use of music for self-regulation of mood and emotions has been known for centuries, and has been the subject of scientific investigation over the past decades. With a growing understanding of the benefits of music on physical, psychological and psychosocial health, research about the application of music as a therapeutic tool in the treatment or management of mental health disorders – such as depression – is still in its preliminary stages.

Here are 3 different approaches where music has been used in research and therapy to promote health:

Neurologic Music Therapy: a research based treatment system using music and music elements for rehabilitation of brain and behaviour function by focusing primarily on cognitive, speech-language, and sensorimotor disorders. This therapeutic approach is administered by an accredited music therapist with a certificate in neurologic music therapy. The interventions consist of research-based therapeutic exercises to facilitate functional non-musical outcomes, and to train and retrain abilities in cognition and psychosocial function, speech and language, motor control, emotional growth, and social skills.

Music Therapy: a form of therapy that uses music experiences and client-therapist relationships to promote, maintain, and restore health. A Music therapist is a qualified and accredited professional trained to promote musical experiences that can be broadly categorized into:

  • active experiences – this may involve singing, playing instruments, improvisation or the composition of music.
  • receptive experiences  this may involve an adjunctive activity performed while listening to live or recorded music, such as relaxing, meditating, practicing movement, drawing or reminiscing.

In general, music therapy interventions focus on facilitating well-being, social relationship building, self-awareness, self-expression, communication, and personal development.

Music Medicine: a term developed in the early 1990s and sometimes used to describe a variety of uses of music that does not include a therapeutic process and client-therapist relationship. Music medicine refers typically to music listening protocols for pain reduction, anxiety reduction, relaxation, mood induction, emotional well being, to induce sleep, and to boost alertness.

Music-related therapy can be offered in hospitals, educational facilities, long term care centres, and private clinics. To find more about music therapy services and for a list of accredited music therapists in Ontario, visit the Music Therapy Association of Ontario. To find more about Neurologic Music Therapy services in Ontario, visit the Academy of Neurologic Music Therapy (for clinical services click on ‘about us’ and ‘registry by location’).

The CAN-BIND program, in collaboration with the Music and Health Research Collaboratory, Faculty of Music, at the University of Toronto, is developing new research projects to better understand what music does for our health and more specifically, how we can use music in the treatment and management of depression.  For research updates and to find more about the research projects at CAN-BIND, click here.

Co-author: Thenille Braun Janzen, PhD.

Editors: Shane McInerney, MSc, MBBS, MRCPsych, Michael H. Thaut, PhD.