Music therapy for depression

Music therapy has been used in a range of ways to treat depression. Approaches can be active or receptive: active techniques might be used when participants cannot articulate difficult feelings. Here the therapist uses clinical techniques to connect with the patient in an improvised dialogue, which can then act as a springboard to emotional awareness. Receptive techniques involve the use of pre-composed music for relaxation, reflection, guided reminiscence and change of mood state. We conducted a systematic review to find out whether music therapy is effective in reducing the symptoms of depression. Five studies met the inclusion criteria for the review. Marked variations in the interventions offered, the populations studied and the outcome measures used meant that quantitative data synthesis and meta-analysis were not appropriate. Four studies reported greater reductions in symptoms of depression among those randomised to music therapy. The fifth study reported no change in mental state among those receiving music therapy compared to those randomised to standard care alone. Findings from individual studies suggest that music therapy for people with depression is feasible and indicate a need for further research.

Authors' conclusions: 

Findings from individual randomised trials suggest that music therapy is accepted by people with depression and is associated with improvements in mood. However, the small number and low methodological quality of studies mean that it is not possible to be confident about its effectiveness. High quality trials evaluating the effects of music therapy on depression are required.

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Background: 

Depression is a highly prevalent disorder associated with reduced social functioning, impaired quality of life, and increased mortality. Music therapy has been used in the treatment of a variety of mental disorders, but its impact on those with depression is unclear.

Objectives: 

To examine the efficacy of music therapy with standard care compared to standard care alone among people with depression and to compare the effects of music therapy for people with depression against other psychological or pharmacological therapies.

Search strategy: 

CCDANCTR-Studies and CCDANCTR-References were searched on 7/11/2007, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, EMBASE, PsycLit, PSYindex, and other relevant sites were searched in November 2006. Reference lists of retrieved articles were hand searched, as well as specialist music and arts therapies journals.

Selection criteria: 

All randomised controlled trials comparing music therapy with standard care or other interventions for depression.

Data collection and analysis: 

Data on participants, interventions and outcomes were extracted and entered onto a database independently by two review authors. The methodological quality of each study was also assessed independently by two review authors. The primary outcome was reduction in symptoms of depression, based on a continuous scale.

Main results: 

Five studies met the inclusion criteria of the review. Marked variations in the interventions offered and the populations studied meant that meta-analysis was not appropriate. Four of the five studies individually reported greater reduction in symptoms of depression among those randomised to music therapy than to those in standard care conditions. The fifth study, in which music therapy was used as an active control treatment, reported no significant change in mental state for music therapy compared with standard care. Dropout rates from music therapy conditions appeared to be low in all studies.