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Music Therapy: How It Works & Benefits

Last Updated: November 20, 2023

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Music therapy is an alternative therapy that combines music and clinical mental health treatment. A trained music therapist guides a client through a customized treatment plan that uses music to process complex emotions, feelings and behaviors. This type of treatment can be beneficial in both addiction and mental health treatment and has many psychological and physical health benefits.

What Is Music Therapy?

Music therapy, also called sound therapy, is used during a clinical therapy session to help promote positive mental and physical health. Music can be used in various ways to help someone work through negative thoughts and behaviors. This is different from listening to music on your own, however. A trained music therapist helps guide someone through their emotions while listening to or playing music with them.  Music therapists go through specific training to be able to perform music therapy with clients. 

Conditions Music Therapy May Help

Music therapy can be very beneficial in treating many different mental health conditions. Music therapy has been shown successful in helping treat symptoms related to:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance Use Disorders
  • Depression
  • Trauma
  • Mood disorders

Music therapy has also been shown to improve physical capabilities in a rehabilitation setting for stroke, traumatic brain injury and dementia patients. These include:

  • Gross and fine motor skills 
  • Language skills
  • Cognitive functioning
  • Stress reduction
  • Pain management
  • Mood and emotion management

Music therapy has even shown positive outcomes for babies requiring additional care in neonatal settings. 

Music Therapy for Children and Young Teens

Music therapy can be especially beneficial for children and young teens. Traditional talk therapy may feel intimidating or challenging for children and adolescents, but music therapy lets them explore complex feelings and situations through song and movement. 

Music therapy can help children with: 

  • Behavioral development
  • Emotional well-being
  • Learning through play
  • Physical stimulation
  • Socialization
  • Pain management 
  • Speech and language development

Do I Need to Have Musical Talent to Participate in Music Therapy?

You do not need to be musically inclined or talented to participate in music therapy. Music is used in a clinical setting by a trained music therapist to guide someone through various mental or physical challenges. Music therapy is open to all levels of musical skill and is encouraged for anyone who wants to try it. A music therapist will help move someone through a session with music, determining what kind of music therapy will work best for each person. 

What Happens During a Music Therapy Session?

Music therapy sessions are tailored to each individual and will be guided by a music therapist. The music therapist will evaluate the kind of participation the client will benefit from and work from that starting point.

A music therapist may have a client create music, sing, play an instrument, improvise, discuss lyrics or simply listen to music in a session. 

Types of Music Therapy

A music therapist will approach music therapy treatment in one of two ways: active or receptive interventions. Active interventions or creative interventions involve the client creating or producing music. They might write the lyrics, compose the music or play an instrument. Receptive interventions in music therapy may include a client listening to different songs for relaxation or contemplation. They may also then discuss the thoughts, feelings or ideas that came up during a specific song.

Benefits and Risks Associated With Music Therapy

There are many benefits to participating in music therapy. Research shows that engaging in music therapy can help reduce anxiety, promote relaxation, improve moods and encourage emotional exploration. There are also physical benefits of music therapy, such as reduced blood pressure, increased ability to concentrate and improved cognitive functioning in certain conditions, such as dementia or traumatic brain injuries. 

The potential risk of music therapy can be the triggering of painful memories or feelings. This is a risk that comes with any type of therapy that deals with complex emotions, feelings and behaviors.

Outlook for People Who Undergo Music Therapy

Music therapy is conducted in a clinical setting, which may include hospitals, clinics or individual therapy offices. A music therapist will evaluate each client’s needs to determine how many sessions are needed. Music therapy takes place over time and can be continuously evaluated to determine if it is still working. If music therapy does not seem to be beneficial at anypoint, a client can reach out to other healthcare providers for support.

Music Activities at The Recovery Village Kansas City

If you or a loved one is interested in having music activities be a part of addiction or mental health treatment, The Recovery Village Kansas City may be the right facility for you. The Recovery Village Kansas City is a full-spectrum facility with a variety of inpatient and outpatient therapies. Contact the admissions team at The Recovery Village Kansas City to hear more about their music activities.


MI College of Contemporary Music. “Music Therapy: What is it and How Does it Work?” May 5, 2021. Accessed November 14, 2023. 

National Alliance on Mental Illness. “The Impact of Music Therapy on Mental Health.” December 19, 2016. Accessed November 14, 2023. 

American Music Therapy Association, Inc. “MUSIC THERAPY AND YOUNG CHILDREN.” 2023. Accessed November 14, 2023. 

University of Minnesota. “What is music therapy?” 2023. Accessed November 14, 2023. 

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Music and Health: What You Need To Know.” September 2022. Accessed November 14, 2023.