Can Music Help Treat Emotional Pain?

How many times have you instinctively turned on music to soothe and distract you during times of stress or emotional pain?

Using music as a tool to heal dates back to Aristotle and Plato. Its modern day renaissance began after World Wars I and II when musicians performed for wounded veterans and physicians found it significantly enhanced their recovery.

Music therapy is now a bona fide form of treatment for a wide range of emotional and physical conditions. In fact, a neurological music therapist is part of the rehabilitation team helping Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords recover from the gun shoot wound to her head. According to news reports, music therapy will help heal the communications centers in her brain by creating new pathways.

Music therapy uses expressive or creative music to help individuals heal. There's a preponderance of clinical, evidence-based studies supporting music therapy.

For example, music calms patients undergoing heart procedures, helping to lower their blood pressure, heart rate, and anxiety levels. Music therapy enhances treatment for mental health disorders such as dementia in the elderly. Slow, melodious music relieves tension, reduces elevated blood pressure, and helps older adults view things in a more rational manner. It also counters loneliness, which is pervasive in seniors.

Therapists use music when patients need to alleviate physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual pain. It helps to draw out feelings patients need to express and share as a part of their healing.

At Glasgow Caledonian University, researchers have launched an ambitious project called Emotional Classification in Contemporary Music. They are analyzing pieces of music to indentify the emotions different pieces elicit. The goal is to develop a computer program that will select appropriate tracts of music that may help regulate individuals' moods and emotions and treat disorders such as depression.

According to the American Music Therapy Association, you do not need inherent musical ability to benefit from music therapy, and no style of music is more effective than others; it's highly dependent on the individual. Therapists use music to treat people in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and psychiatric facilities. Music therapy helps mental health patients explore their feelings, make positive changes in mood and emotion, resolves conflicts, and regain a sense of control.

The next time you are in pain or just want to improve your mood, turn on your favorite music as therapy. It's free, easy, effective, and has no negative side effects.


National Institute of Mental Health. "Psychotherapies." Web. 16 August 2010.

ScienceDaily. "Music on Prescription Could Help Treat Emotional and Physical Pain." Web. 10 September 2010.

Bradt, J, and Dileo, C. "Music for stress and anxiety reduction in coronary heart disease patients (Review)." The Cochrane Library 2 (2009). Web.

Therapy Times. "Music Therapy to Treat Mental Illness ." Web. 17 July 2008. "Frequently Asked Questions About Music Therapy." Web.

Frillici, Leigh. "Initial stages of rehab keeping Giffords busy." Web. 28 January 2011.

Temple University. Boyer college of Music and Dance. "Frequently Asked Questions about Music Therapy." Web.