The Healing Power of Music

You may already know that music has the properties to inspire, edify, and bring people together, but did you know it’s been shown to have benefits on mental health?

The application of music as therapy for the mind has progressed quickly as brain-imaging techniques have revealed the brain’s plasticity and remarkable ability to respond to neurologically based treatment.

Research has shown that music therapy is effective in reducing symptoms of many mental disorders, including schizophrenia, mood disorders, autism, dementia and Alzheimer’s. It has also shown to alleviate some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease and improve aphasia and similar speech disorders.

Music Therapy for Stroke Recovery

Music therapy can help people who are recovering from a stroke or traumatic brain injury that caused damage to the left-brain region that’s responsible for speech.

If the right side of the brain, where a lot of music is processed, is intact, some stroke patients can use “melodic intonation therapy,” which involves singing using two tones very close in pitch to communicate.  According to research, some patients can even move from this two-tone singing back to actual speech.

Stroke patients who struggle with walking may likewise benefit from music therapy. At the Center for Biomedical Research in Music at Colorado State University, they have shown that people partially paralyzed on one side can retrain themselves to walk faster and in a more coordinated way if they practice walking to the beat of music or set to a metronome. Even combining their “rhythm walking” with physical therapy helps stroke patients recover their stride faster!

Music Therapy for Autism

Music therapy can be a particularly useful when working with children with autism due to its non-verbal, non-threatening nature. Many children with Autism Spectrum Disorder respond positively to music experiences, making music a safe and structured stimulus for social engagement and the practice of social skills. The use of music therapy has demonstrated improvements of socially acceptable behaviors since music facilitates the language, social, and motor skills necessary to carry out those behaviors.  Also, singing and music making may engage areas of the brain related to language abilities.

Music Therapy for Schizophrenia

Music therapy can be used to mitigate some symptoms of schizophrenia. Individual studies of schizophrenic patients undergoing music therapy showed diminished negative symptoms, such as flattened affect, speech issues, and anhedonia as well as improved social symptoms, including increased conversation ability, reduced social isolation, and increased interest in external events.

David Binanay is a professional violinist and mental health advocate who is the founder of the non-profit Music Over Mind, which performs free music shows at hospitals for people suffering from mental illness. He struggled with schizophrenia for 5 years before harnessing the power of music therapy in combination with a change in his medication management. He’s now married, living independently, and has his symptoms under control. In Binanay’s words, “Music has been my catalyst for recovery.”

Music Therapy for Mood Disorders

Music therapy is especially effective in enhancing focus and attention, and in decreasing negative symptoms of mood disorders like anxiety and depression. In a small study of 26 patients with mental illness, including mood disorders, individuals were randomly assigned to a music intervention group or a routine care group. They found that after 15 weekly sessions, those in the music intervention group showed signs of significant improvement with their depression, anxiety, and relationships when compared to the control group.

The Me2/orchestra

The Me2/Orchestra is an organization made up of musicians who have mental disorders or support people who do. Their flagship ensemble, Me2/Orchestra–Burlington, is a non-auditioned orchestra that rehearses weekly and performs 3-4 times annually in traditional concert venues, inside correctional and rehabilitation facilities, and for mental health events. Me2/Orchestra–Boston was launched in September 2014.

Ronald Braunstein, the conductor, suffers from bipolar disorder; before starting Me2/orchestra, it very nearly ended his career as a musician. Instead, he stepped away from the mainstream orchestra and began Me2 with his wife, French horn player Caroline Whiddon. In 2013, a Me2 concert was held commemorating Fred Paroutaud, a television and film composer. In 2012, Paroutaud took his own life after battling bipolar disorder.

Music plays an important role in the lives of many, but its function as a therapeutic tool has been proven to be inestimably valuable for those living with mental conditions.


Choi, A., Soo Lee, M., & Lim, H. (2008). “Effects of group music intervention on depression, anxiety, and relationships in psychiatric patients: A pilot study.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine., 14(5), 567-570. doi:10.1089/acm.2008.0006

LaGasse, A Blythe. “Social Outcomes in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Review of Music Therapy Outcomes.” Patient Related Outcome Measures 8 (2017): 23–32. PMC. Web. 16 Mar. 2017. Accessed March 10 2017.

Lenda, Paul.  “9 Healing Benefits of Music.” Wake Up World.  2013.  Accessed March 10 2017.

Me2/Music For Mental Health

Merz, Beverly.  “Healing Through Music.”  Harvard Health Publications: Harvard Health Blog, Harvard Medical School, 05 Nov. 2015, Accessed March 10 2017.

Raglio, Alfredo et al. “Effects of Music and Music Therapy on Mood in Neurological Patients.” World Journal of Psychiatry 5.1 (2015): 68–78. PMC. Web. Accessed 15 Mar. 2017.

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