Music Therapy & Mood Disorders

Music Therapy & Mood Disorders
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The benefits of music use on mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety, have long been studied across many experiments due to the effects it can have on cognitive, sensorimotor, and emotional processing [1]. Recent experiments that study the effects of music in those with pre-existing disorders show that in fact, music can improve the quality of lives of those with pre-existing depression by decreasing levels of depression and anxiety [1]. Studies conducted on those with other pre-existing neurological diseases such as Parkinson Disease also reflect an improvement in overall quality of life when physical rehabilitation is combined with music therapy [2]. Research on music therapy is therefore currently a relevant field study, as it can open up a field of non-invasive, non-medicinal form of therapy [3].

Mood Domains of the Brain Affected by Music

Music has long been known to have variety of physiological and psychological effects by utilizing attention, memory, emotion, sensory processes, and social cognition domains of the brain, in addition to stimulating other higher-level cognition [2]. Effects on mood and psychology have also been studied due to the involvement of emotion, perception, and social cognition in processing music [2]. When modulation of emotion with music is examined by conducting a PET scan while using music to induce pleasure – measured by chills or shivers down the spine – it is shown that pleasure intensity positively correlates with regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) in the insula, orbitofrontal cortex, ventral medial prefrontal cortex, and ventral striatum [2]. In addition to these areas involved with the brain’s reward and emotion centers, it is shown that components of the limbic system are also modulated by music by reducing rCBF [2]. Implications of these changes are that this highlights how music can modulate emotions, providing empirical evidence to the effectiveness of music therapy in depression and anxiety, which can stem from abnormalities in the amygdala [2].

Music Therapy for Mood Disorders

Music Therapy for Mood Disorders Co-Morbid with Other Neurological Diseases

Treatment using music therapy for mood disorders occurring in conjunction with other neurological diseases, such as Parkinson's Disease, has also been investigated [1]. In the study, it is shown that 7 participants with pre-existing Parkinson’s Disease were administered a rehabilitation program paired with auditory music cues twice a week [1]. A baseline level of self-perceived quality of life, depression and anxiety was established through the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating scale (UPDRS), Parkinson’s Disease Questionnaire (PDQ-39) including 39 items, Beck Depression Inventory, and the Beck Anxiety Inventory, which was then assessed 2 weeks later for a comparison in results [1]. Outcomes show that 10 weeks later, not only is there a statistically significant improvement in UPDRS daily living scores, but also a slight decrease in Beck Depression Inventory and Beck Anxiety Inventory scores, reflecting a lower level of depression and anxiety [1]. In addition to the use of music cues to facilitate physical treatment programs in those with neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease, this shows that depression, anxiety, and the overall quality of life in patients can also be improved with the use of music in treatment programs.

Long Term Music Therapy

One such experiment highlights the use of long-term music therapy on a group of elderly adults with pre-existing depression and mood [3]. Music therapy is administered for 30 minutes per week over an 8-week period to a group of 50 older people, split into a control group of 24 participants and a music therapy group of 26 participants [3]. Depression levels were assessed once a week throughout the duration of the study using the Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS-15), which includes 15 questions on self-perceived mood levels from the previous week [3]. A statistically significant reduction of depression levels was observed starting week 4, and descriptive analysis concludes that there was a significant improvement in depression levels overall in those who were administered music therapy, in contrast to the control group [3]. While there is to be more studies conducted in this area of research due to the small sample size, this study serves as a gateway to further examining the use of music therapy in treating those with depression as well as other mood disorders [3].


Figure 1 – Results of Long Term Music Therapy in the Elderly. Adapted from Chan et al. (2011) [3]

Future Outlook

Although music has long been known to have effects on many areas of the brain and cognition, existing studies show the benefits of music on mood disorders occurring in conjunction with neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease [1], as well as the advantage of long term music therapy in improving the lives of the elderly [3], due to its effects on reward and emotion domains of the brain [2]. Despite the fact that additional research is necessary in order to further develop the use of music therapy for mood disorders, this may in fact be the beginning of a field of non-invasive, non-medicinal forms of clinical treatments [3].

1. Clair, A. A., Lyons, K. E., Hamburg, J. (2011). “A Feasibility Study of the Effects of Music and Movement on Physical Function, Quality of Life, Depression, and Anxiety in Patients with Parkinson Disease”. Music and Medicine. 4(1): 49-55
2. Koelsch, Stefan. (2009). “A Neuroscientific Perspective on Music Therapy”. New York Academy of Sciences. 1169: 374 – 384.
3. Chan, M. F., Wong, Z. Y., Onishi, H., Thayala, N. V. (2011) . “Effects of Music on Depression in Older People: A Randomized Controlled Trial”. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 21: 776 – 783

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