Unlocking the Healing Power of Music: How Music Therapy Can Improve Your Health

Have you ever noticed how listening to your favourite song can immediately lift your mood and make you feel better? That’s because music has an undeniable ability to affect our emotions and impact our overall well-being.

Old woman listening to music

Music therapy takes this concept to the next level by utilizing music as a therapeutic tool to help individuals overcome various physical, emotional, and cognitive challenges. In fact, music therapy has become increasingly popular in recent years as more and more people recognize its positive impact on their health and well-being.

So if you’re looking for a unique and effective way to improve your mental and physical health, consider exploring the world of music therapy. You might just be surprised by the transformative power of music!

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is a therapeutic practice that utilizes music to address individuals’ physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs. It is a client-centred approach that involves the active participation of individuals in the music-making process, with the guidance and support of a trained music therapist. The goals of music therapy vary depending on the needs of the individual receiving the therapy. 

Old man listening to music

History of Music Therapy

The use of music for therapeutic purposes can be traced back to ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks, Egyptians, and Chinese, who recognized the healing properties of music. 

However, modern music therapy as a profession began to develop in the early 20th century.

One of the earliest pioneers of music therapy was E. Thayer Gaston, who established the first academic program in music therapy at Michigan State University in 1944. During World War II, music therapy was used to help wounded soldiers recover from physical and emotional trauma.

The profession continued to grow in the 1950s and 1960s, with the establishment of the National Association for Music Therapy (NAMT) in 1950 and the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) in 1998. These organizations helped to standardize training and credentialing for music therapists and promote the use of music therapy in healthcare settings.

Since then, music therapy has expanded beyond hospital settings to include schools, mental health clinics, and community centers. Today, music therapists work with a wide range of populations, including children with developmental disabilities, adults with mental health conditions, and seniors with Alzheimer’s disease. 

Types of Music Therapy

There are several types of music therapy, each with its unique approach and techniques. Here are some of the most common types of music therapy and how they are used in healthcare settings:

Music Therapy of a sick woman
  • Active music therapy: This type of music therapy involves active participation in creating music, such as playing instruments, singing, or composing. Active music therapy can be used to improve motor skills, communication, and emotional expression.
  • Receptive music therapy: In receptive music therapy, individuals listen to music chosen by the therapist and are encouraged to reflect on the emotions and sensations they experience while listening. Receptive music therapy can be used to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation.
  • Music-assisted relaxation: This music therapy combines music with guided relaxation techniques to promote deep relaxation and reduce stress.
  • Music-based interventions: Music-based interventions are designed to target specific goals, such as pain management, cognitive function, or social skills. These interventions may involve creating music, listening to music, or using music to facilitate movement.
  • Improvisational music therapy: Improvisational music therapy involves creating music at the moment without a pre-determined plan. This type of therapy can be used to promote emotional expression, creativity, and spontaneity.

Nurse in PPE playing a violin

In healthcare settings, music therapy may be used in various ways, depending on the needs of the individual. For example, music therapy may be used to reduce anxiety before surgery, to improve communication skills in children with autism, or to promote relaxation and pain management in cancer patients.

Benefits of Music Therapy

Music therapy has been shown to positively affect physical, emotional, and cognitive health. 

  • Physically, music therapy can improve motor skills, such as coordination and balance, and may also help to reduce pain and muscle tension. 
  • Emotionally, music therapy has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression and promote feelings of relaxation and well-being. 
  • In terms of cognitive health, music therapy has been shown to improve memory, attention, and other cognitive functions, particularly in individuals with neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s.

Scientific research also supports the effectiveness of music therapy in improving health outcomes. For example, a study published in the Journal of Pain and Symptom Management found that music therapy was effective in reducing pain and anxiety in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. 

Another study, published in the Journal of Music Therapy found that music therapy improved cognitive function and mood in individuals with dementia.

Real-life examples of music therapy success stories are abundant. For instance, music therapy has been used to help stroke patients regain motor skills, such as walking and speaking. In one case, a child with autism was able to communicate with his family for the first time after participating in music therapy sessions.

How to Get Started with Music Therapy

If you are interested in exploring music therapy, the first step is to find a qualified music therapist. The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) maintains a directory of music therapists on their website. You can search for a music therapist in your area and contact them directly to learn more about their services.

During a music therapy session, you can work with the therapist to create music, listen to music, or engage in other music-based activities tailored to your individual needs and goals. The therapist will work with you to determine the best approach based on your health concerns and preferences.


Incorporating music therapy into your daily life can be as simple as listening to music you enjoy, or creating music on your own. You can also incorporate music into your daily routines, such as listening to relaxing music before bed or using upbeat music to motivate you during exercise. 

Remember that music therapy is most effective when tailored to your individual needs and goals, so working with a qualified music therapist is recommended for optimal results. If you find this article helpful, share it with those who may benefit from music therapy.

Woman listening to music

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