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Music heals

Thursday, February 10, 2011 by: Amy Chaves, Ph.D.
Tags: music, healing, health news

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(NewsTarget) Studies in music indicate that it is a natural healer. Proven to release dopamine responsible for pleasure, music shows promise in the treatment of mental and somatic illnesses. Similar research also suggest that it may be useful for patients with traumatic brain injury and as therapeutic intervention for problems associated with aging.

Pleasure booster. A recent study published in Nature Neuroscience (2011) indicates that listening to one`s favorite music leads to the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the pleasure system of the brain. Even just anticipating the sounds of music one likes will trigger the release of dopamine. This study was the first to link dopamine and musical pleasure and how the human pleasure system works.

Dopamine, which is also responsible for both motivation and addiction, is a feel-good chemical. It can affect how you feel and think, and has been attributed to feelings of happiness. Too little of it may cause irrational thinking, memory loss, and schizophrenia.

Depression lifter. A review of five randomized studies was conducted by Maratus, et al. (2008) to determine if music is effective in reducing the symptoms of depression.

Results showed that four of the five studies reported significant reduction in depression among participants who were selected at random to music therapy compared to those receiving standard care conditions. Participants in the music therapy reported improvement in their moods and mental state.

In a similar study conducted by Myskja and Nord (2008), music therapy also resulted in a significant reduction in the depression level of nursing home residents in Oslo, Norway. The institution was without music for 4 months, after which music therapy was resumed for 2 months, twice a week, with 72 residents participating in two groups -- those with music and those without music.

Results revealed that residents who participated in music therapy had a significant reduction of depression rating compared to those without music therapy.

Brain healer. Music can also address the needs of patients with traumatic brain injuries. In a book by Gilbertson and Aldrige and reviewed by Wright (2008), music therapy was found to be effective as a rehabilitative therapy for patients who were initially considered unreachable or non-responsive. This is proven in the comprehensive literature presented in their book, which includes moving stories of clients who were thought to be in a vegetative state but were able to react to music and subsequently indicated the ability to communicate.

Other benefits. An extensive review of literature on music therapy by Koelsch (2009) also revealed additional benefits of music as follows: Music can automatically capture attention and may distract attention from negative experiences such as pain, anxiety, worry and sadness. Similarly, it is effective in the treatment of affective disorders such as depression, pathologic anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It is beneficial in the treatment of tinnitus and in facilitating Alzheimer`s patients` adaptation in long-term care facilities, and it has also been shown to improve executive function in the elderly, including those who suffered stroke and Parkinson`s disease.

Hence, music as a natural healer is credited to induce pleasurable feelings and is considered a promising treatment for mental and somatic illnesses; it can enhance the emotional and psycho-social wellness of brain-injured patients and could offer therapeutic benefits in the elderly by improving cognitive, physical, and emotional health.


Gilbertson, S., & Aldridge, D. (2008). Music therapy and traumatic brain injury: A light on a dark night. Reviewed by Wright, K. Canadian Journal of Music Therapy, 15(1), 95-100.

Koelsh, S. (2009). A neuroscientific perspective on music therapy. The Neurosciences and Music III-Disorders and Plasticity. Annual Review of New York Academy of Science, 1169, 347-384.

Maratus, A., Gold, C., Wang, X., & Crawford, M. (2008). Music therapy for depression. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD004517. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004517.pub2.

Myskja, A., & Nord, P. G. (2008). "The Day the Music Died" - A pilot study of music and depression. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 17(1), 30-40.

Salimpoor, V. N., Benovoy, M., Larcher K., Dagher A., & Zatorre, R. J. (2011). Nature Neuroscience. doi: 10.1038/nn.2726.

About the author

Amy Chaves is a researcher, teacher, counsellor and writer. She has a Ph.D. in Counselling Psychology from the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. She is currently writing a book on connectedness and writes blogs in her website, which can be viewed at http://amychaves.blogspot.com/

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