Today’s mental health professionals have many tools and techniques at their disposal. Medications that help with depression, anxiety, and other conditions are readily available and have fewer side effects than they once did. For many patients, these are effective, but not for all. Regular sessions with a counselor and cognitive/behavioral therapy are other options. However, there are methods that may help patients with psychiatric problems. One of these is music therapy, an affordable and accessible tool to use with psychiatric patients.

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More than 300 years ago, playwright William Congreve wrote, “Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast (Bartlett, 1919).” Today we know that is more than just a poetic phrase. Mental health workers have discovered that “Music helps individuals reduce stress…Music may ward off despair, promote healing and decrease pain and muscle tension…Listening to music is calming and may lessen or even eliminate panic attacks (Buchalter, 2011, p. 149).”

One of the most encouraging aspects of music therapy is that it can be used for patients of all ages. Much music therapy is used in the schools and can help students with a wide variety of social, behavioral, and developmental issues (McFerran and Rickson, 2014, p. 77). Music also helps patients with anger issues (Buchalter, 2011, p. 119) and older patients who are experiencing loss of cognitive abilities, since the music of their youth often triggers memories and helps communication and socialization as they share their favorites and talk about events in their lives during the time that music was popular (Buchalter, 2011, p. 286). It is often astonishing to observe how closely music is tied to many of our experiences and emotions.

Music therapy is non-invasive and non-threatening. For the price of a “boom box” and a few CDs, therapists can often use music to help their patients relax, share, and ultimately come to a better mental and emotional state. Music therapy should be just one of many tools a therapist can use to help those patients who wrestle with fear, anger, and despair.

  • Bartlett, J. (1919). Familiar Quotations, 10th Edition. New York, Random House.
  • Buchalter, S. I. (2011). Art Therapy and Creative Coping Techniques for Older Adults. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  • McFerran, K., & Rickson, D. (2014). Community music therapy in schools: Realigning with the needs of contemporary students, staff and systems. International Journal of Community Music, 7(1), 75-92. doi:10.1386/ijcm.7.1.75_1