The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Does Music Therapy Improve Mental Health in Adults? A Review

Saturday, January 19, 2013: 3:30 PM
Executive Center 1 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Jungup Lee, Doctoral Student, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Purpose: Mental health in adults is a major social issue in recent years.  Many people with mental disorders are more likely to use typical treatments including psychotherapy and psychopharmacological therapy.  However, they are not satisfied with the results of conventional therapy and seek complementary and alternative therapies (CAT) in addition to or in lieu of standard care (Gold, Solli, Krüger, & Lie, 2009).  One widely used CAT is Music Therapy (MT) and MT is now available in a variety of therapeutic and healthcare settings internationally (Cassileth & Vickers, 2005).  Therefore, there is a need for a systematic review of the available evidence to understand its effectiveness with adults.  The current review provides a summarized synthesis and evaluation of studies addressing the effects of music therapy alone or music therapy added to standard care on mental health among adults.

Method: Potential studies were identified through electronic bibliographic databases and manual searches.  Studies were included for review if (a) the study methodology involved a randomized controlled trial (RCT), (b) the study outcome included a measure of mental health, (c) the study sample included adults age 18 and over, (d) the study appeared in the English language, (e) the study was published in a peer-reviewed journal from 2006 to March, 2012.  There were also several exclusion criteria used, including (a) the identified study involved clients with dementia, (b) the study was an uncontrolled pretest-posttest trial, and (c) the study involved an unpublished dissertation, government reports, gray literature, and unpublished conference presentations.  Applying these criteria, the search yielded 593, nine of which were retained for review. 

Results: The studies were located across the world, with two studies from North and Central America (USA and Mexico), five from Asia (Taiwan, Singapore, China, and Iran), and two from Europe (UK and Finland). Two of the nine studies included pregnant women, two studies included older adults, two studies included depressed patients, one study included patients with chronic non-malignant pain, one included inpatients with schizophrenia, and one included outpatients with cancer.  Outcomes of mental health included measures of depression, anxiety, general functioning, and schizophrenia.  Various instruments were used to measure treatment outcomes.  In the nine studies reviewed here, all studies found positive effects of music therapy relative to no treatment or added to standard care.

Conclusion: Preliminary evidence supports that music therapy is an effective means for mental health.  Study strengths include use of RCT methodology and critically systematic review conducted across many countries.  However, most studies employed relatively small sample sizes and no consistency in number of therapy sessions.  Future research might be considered with larger sample sizes and attention to blinding, which enhance the statistical power and the generalizability of the results.  Further study is also needed to identify long-term effective of music therapy controlling for other typical interventions for mental health among adults.  Particular needed are controls for placebo influences, socially desirable responses, and the wish to please the therapists and/or researchers.