Using music therapy alongside standard treatment is effective in helping people with depression, according to a study published online today in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
Finnish researchers said that giving people music therapy helped them to express themselves emotionally and showed positive results.
The research team, led by Professor Jaakko Erkkilä and Professor Christian Gold from the University of Jyväskylä in Finland recruited 79 people aged between 18 and 50 who had been diagnosed with depression.
All the participants were given standard treatment of psychiatric counseling, psychotherapy sessions and appropriate medication, but 33 of them were also offered 20 music therapy sessions.
The one-on-one music therapy sessions each lasted 60 minutes and took place twice a week during which trained music therapists helped each participant to improvise music using percussion instruments and drums.
On average, each participant attended 18 music therapy sessions and 29 of the people (88%) attended at least 15 sessions. The participants in both groups were followed up at 3 months and 6 months and assessed for symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The researchers found that, after three months, the participants who received music therapy showed greater improvement than those who only received standard care.
The participants in the music therapy sessions had significantly fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, and scored better on general functioning.
Although improvements still remained after six months, the difference between the groups was no longer statistically significant.
Professor Gold said: “Our trial has shown that music therapy, when added to standard care including medication, psychotherapy and counselling, helps people to improve their levels of depression and anxiety.
“Music therapy has specific qualities that allow people to express themselves and interact in a non-verbal way – even in situations when they cannot find the words to describe their inner experiences.”
Professor Erkkilä added: “We found that people often expressed their inner pressure and feelings by drumming or with the tones produced with a mallet instrument. Some people described their playing experience as cathartic.
“Our findings now need to be repeated with a larger sample of people, and further research is needed to assess the cost-effectiveness of such therapy.”
In an accompanying editorial in the journal, Dr Mike Crawford, reader in mental health services research in the Centre for Mental Health, Imperial College London, said: “This is a high-quality randomised trial of music therapy specifically for depression, and the results suggest that it can improve the mood and general functioning of people with depression.
“Music-making is social, pleasurable and meaningful. It has been argued that music making engages people in ways that words may simply not be able to.”