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What is music therapy? How effective is it in addiction treatment? Learn all about music therapy in this comprehensive article.

What is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is defined as the “use of various methods of tailored music interventions within a therapeutic relationship to promote health” and is usually provided by a credentialed music therapist. 1

Music therapy is an excellent choice for individuals who struggle with verbal communication and can help individuals access and express emotions that may be difficult to address through more traditional communication forms. Music therapy may include songwriting, lyric analysis, drumming, musical games, relaxation training, and improvisational musical self-expression. 2

What is Music Therapy

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How Music Can Help You Heal

Music as therapy can be immensely beneficial in treating substance use disorders and other mental health concerns. Musical therapy and music-based interventions are shown to positively impact mood, stress management, self-esteem, motivation, emotional expression, and social cohesion.

Music therapy can also help individuals shift their perspective and find an internal locus of control to reclaim their power. Additionally, music therapy helps increase an individual’s willingness to participate in treatment.

How Does Music Therapy Work?

Musical therapy works by engaging the parts of the brain responsible for cognitive, sensorimotor, and emotional processing. Music therapy works through five different channels: modulation of attention, modulation of emotion, modulation of cognition, modulation of behavior, and modulation of communication. 3

Modulation of Attention

One of the things that makes musical therapy effective is the way that music can pull us in and redirect our focus from things that may cause us to have negative emotions. Music can clear the mind and bring attention to the present moment, allowing profound healing.

Modulation of Emotion

Music has a profound effect on human emotions. Music has the power to regulate the emotional brain, specifically the processes involved with inception, creation, continuation, termination, and modulation of emotion. Music can also help expressing emotion, and individuals who struggle to express themselves in conventional therapy may see improvements in their ability to ‘open up’ after musical therapy.  4

Modulation of Cognition

One of the effects of music therapy is improvements in cognition. Music activates parts of the brain related to memory and can be used to process events related to musical experiences. Additionally, musical therapy is interpretation of lyrics, which involves cognitive processes.

Modulation of Behavior

Music can also modulate behavior through modulation of cognition and vice versa. Music therapy can be used to help individuals make sustained behavioral changes. Additionally, learning to play a new instrument also improves an individual’s muscle control which can be important in treating certain disorders.

Modulation of Communication

Music is a form of self-expression and communication. Musical improvisation and personal music creation can allow for individuals to communicate in ways they normally wouldn’t in conventional therapy. Additionally, music therapy helps individuals who struggle with communication disorders because it allows for another avenue of communication.

Types of Music Therapy

There are many different types of music therapy for mental health. The individual’s needs will greatly determine the type of therapy used. Music therapy procedures will look different depending on the musical therapy used. There are five types of music therapy for emotional healing.

Analytical Music Therapy

Analytical music therapy is a type of relational therapy that aims to help individuals understand themselves and their relationships through music creation and analysis. Individuals are encouraged to create whatever music they need to express their thoughts, which is then later discussed with the therapist. 5

Benenzon Music Therapy

Benenzon music therapy is designed to help individuals find their “musical sound identity.” Benenzon music therapy also encourages individuals to express themselves musically in a way that matches their internal psychological state. 6

Cognitive Behavioral Music Therapy (CBMT)

Cognitive behavioral music therapy blends traditional cognitive behavioral therapy with musical therapy. Because of its effect of behavioral modulation, musical therapy complements CBT nicely. CBMT is a little more structured than analytical or Benenzon music therapy and is not improvisational.

Community Music Therapy

Community music therapy is a type of group therapy that asks for high levels of member engagement and participation. Creating sound with other individuals can be deeply healing. Group music therapy helps individuals develop a sense of community as all members are encouraged to express themselves musically. 7

Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy

In this type of musical therapy, both the individual participating and the therapist create music together. This is an improvisational therapy to improve self-expression, with drums and cymbals being commonly used.

The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM)

This type of musical therapy harnesses the therapeutic powers of classical music. Classical music for therapy can evoke all manners of reaction. Individuals are asked to share their feelings, sensations, memories, and any imagery that arises while listening to the music. This is then further therapeutically explored.

Vocal Psychotherapy

Vocal psychotherapy is another form of musical therapy where individuals are encouraged to find their voice rather than using instruments. Individuals practice vocal exercises and breathing techniques and are also encouraged to make natural organic sounds. This practice helps cultivate inner connection.

What Music Therapy Can Help With

Musical therapy and mental health go hand in hand. Music therapy is useful in the treatment of many mental health conditions. The healing benefits of music make music therapy for psychiatric patients an excellent choice. Musical therapy uses include:

  • Alzheimer’s
  • Anxiety
  • Pain
  • Depression
  • Emotional dysregulation
  • Feelings of low self-esteem
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Substance use disorders
  • Traumatic brain injury

Alzheimer’s Disease

Music as therapy can be beneficial for individuals struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. For these individuals, music therapy helps improve cognition and mood. Another one of the benefits of music therapy for Alzheimer’s disease is that it reduces stress-induced behavioral problems. 8

Anxiety or Stress

One of the healing benefits of music is its ability to reduce anxiety and stress. In a study done on individuals undergoing music therapy for anxiety, it was found that music therapy reduced anxiety levels. 9

Chronic Pain

Another benefit of music therapy is its application in pain management. In a recent study on individuals with chronic pain, 87% of participants found music therapy helpful. Music therapy is a good choice for pain management and can be used to reduce anxiety surrounding upcoming procedures. 10


Symptoms of depression can also be alleviated through music therapy. Current research efforts surrounding music therapy for depression have yet to define the best music for depression. However, music therapy for depression complements standard treatment options and can increase their efficacy. 11

Emotional Dysregulation

Because of music therapy’s effects on emotional modulation, music therapy is helpful for individuals who struggle with emotional dysregulation. Music therapy can be soothing and stabilizing for individuals who experience mood swings or emotional outbursts, due to its grounding effects.

Feelings of Low Self-Esteem

Music therapy helps increase self-esteem by encouraging creative expression. Through musical therapy, individuals can find their voice and their own unique sound, raising self-esteem. This effect lingers long after the music therapy treatment process has ended.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also benefit from music therapy. Music therapy, especially group therapy can decrease feelings of isolation and disconnection for individuals with PTSD. Additionally, because music therapy increases the release of endorphins and decreases stress hormones; it can help manage negative emotional states. 12

Substance Use Disorders

Music therapy can be immensely beneficial in the treatment of substance use disorders. Participating in music therapy can help increase compliance to substance use treatment, as well as help manage some of the symptoms of substance use disorder. Music therapy helps individuals shift from feeling out of control in their addiction to developing an internal locus of control to overcome substance use.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Music therapy can play a role in treating traumatic brain injury, especially for nonverbal individuals. Music improves cognition, muscle control and can help relearn speech. Music engages multiple parts of the brain, improving overall brain function, making it a good treatment choice for individuals with TBI.

Benefits of Music Therapy

Music therapy can benefit anyone’s mental health as it has powerful effects. Regardless of the mental health concern, music therapy benefits include: an increased sense of self-esteem, decreased anxiety, increased motivation, providing a safe and successful emotional release, improved verbalization, and fostering stronger connections to others.

What is Music Therapy

Improved Self-Esteem

Music therapy and mental health go hand in hand. Music therapy encourages creative self-expression and has been shown to boost self-esteem. This is especially true for individuals who participate in experiential music therapy, where they learn to play an instrument.

Improvements to self-esteem are important in recovery from a substance use disorder because increased self-esteem is directly related to an increase in self-efficacy, which is a major component of recovery.

Decreased Anxiety

Regardless of the condition, it is being used to treat, musical therapy decreases symptoms of both depression and anxiety. Music therapy can also be used to help alleviate an individual’s anxiety specific to receiving treatment as well.

Increased Motivation

Music therapy has the potential to increase motivation for change. With improved self-esteem comes improved self-efficacy, and an internal motivation for change. Musical therapy is also beneficial in reducing resistance to treatment, especially for individuals with substance abuse disorders.

Successful and Safe Emotional Release

Difficult emotions such as anger, sadness, shame, and guilt can all be released through musical therapy. Release of such emotions in a safe and healthy way is key in recovery. These emotions can be difficult to express in traditional talk therapy. Practices in musical therapy such as drumming or creating music can provide a release for pent up emotion.

Increased Verbalization

Individuals who participate in musical therapy tend to experience more emotional expression and verbalization in other areas of their life as an effect of treatment. Music as therapy helps individuals find their own unique voice and gives them the confidence to use it.

Stronger Connections With Other People

Music, in general, has the amazing ability to foster a sense of connection with others as it allows us to express ourselves and our emotions effectively, without words. One of the long-term effects of group music therapy is the reduction of feelings of isolation and increased empathy and feelings of connection. This is because cooperation and coordination with others is required in the group setting when making music together.

Music Therapy at Genesis

Are you ready to experience the healing powers of music therapy? At Genesis Recovery, we understand that not everyone responds to conventional talk therapy and offer various therapies to meet your unique needs. Get connected with us and start your journey with music therapy today.


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