Thursday, May 19, 2011
Using Music to Lift Depression’s Veil
Many people find that music lifts their spirits. Now new research shows that music therapy — either listening to or creating music with a specially trained therapist — can be a useful treatment for depression.
The finding that music therapy offers a real clinical benefit to depression sufferers comes from a review by the Cochrane Collaboration, a not-for-profit group that reviews health care issues. Although there aren’t many credible studies of music therapy for depression, the reviewers found five randomized trials that studied the effects of music therapy. Some studies looked at the effects of providing music therapy to patients who were receiving drug treatment for depression. Others compared music therapy to traditional talk therapy. In four out of five of the trials, music therapy worked better at easing depression symptoms than therapies that did not employ music, the researchers found.
“The current studies indicate that music therapy may be able to improve mood and has low drop-out rates,” said lead author Anna Maratos, an arts therapist for the National Health Service in London. “While the evidence came from a few small studies, it suggests that this is an area that is well worth further investigation….We need to find out which forms have greatest effect.”
Ms. Maratos notes that music therapy might be particularly useful for adolescents who may reject a traditional form of counseling. Some older patients also may not be comfortable talking about their feelings, “but do tend to express themselves through song,” she said.
“I think we can be reasonably confident that music therapy has an effect,” Ms. Maratos said. “Music therapy is often used where more conventional therapies are not as likely to be as accepted or tolerated.”
There are two main types of music therapy. Sometimes, a therapist will listen to music with a patient and talk about the feelings or memories that it evokes. In another form, the therapist is a skilled musician and will improvise music with the patient. If the patient doesn’t play an instrument, he or she might be given a simple percussion instrument and the therapist will play along.
Other studies have shown a benefit from music therapy in the treatment for autism, dementia, learning disabilities, strokes and pain management during labor and birth. The problem, Ms. Maratos notes, is that there isn’t very much high-quality research. “It doesn’t easily attract serious research funding,” she said. “It’s difficult to do high-quality, large-scale trials.”