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  • Writer's pictureTiffany McBride, LCPC

Music As Medicine

There is no clean and simple explanation for the effectiveness of music. There is no single reason that explains it. There have been several research studies on the topic of music as medicine. There is a wide range of explanations of why these tools help. These helpful levels of analysis that can range from social explanations to changes in neurotransmitter levels.

Each person experiences different perspectives and emotions when it comes to a song being played at a concert or on stage. Sometimes music moves someone to cry and remember times from the past, at other times music can bring a smile or make you want to dance. Sometimes hearing music can inspire someone to change their lives or to be moved to empathize and express their own emotions. There are several different reactions to the expression of music.

Musical expression can be a powerful effort to the healing process. There is a lot of discussions and broad research on the benefits of music, but not very much experiential research exists. Music has recently received considerable attention and recent studies have examined the “therapeutic effects and benefits of the arts and healing”. (Staricoff, 2009)

Music has been around since the beginning of history. Music is the most accessible and researched topic in arts and healing. (Stuckey & Nobel, 2010) It is considered an old medicine in many cultures. Outside the entertainment or the active performance of musical experience, there is a long-lasting effect on restoring the mind and body.

Throughout the studies, music has shown to decrease anxiety, restore emotional balance, reduce chronic pain, increase relaxation, relieve tension, increase in immunity, reducing of psychological (anxiety and depression) and physical symptoms (blood pressure and heart rate), and promote well-being. (Stuckey et al., 2010)

Music can calm neural activity in the brain, (Krout, 2006) which may lead to reductions in anxiety, and help to regenerate functioning in the immune system. As stated by Stuckey et al., “As the activity levels of neurons in the central nucleus of the amygdala decrease in response to calming effects of music, there may be corresponding reductions in the signals being sent to other parts of the brain.” (Stuckey et al., 2010)

Music can induce emotional states by initiating changes in the system of neurochemicals that can increase positive moods and heighten arousal, which can increase the rate of change in the brain and speed up rehabilitation. (Thompson & Schlaug, 2015) According to “neuroimaging research the part of the brain involved in perception and processing of music overlaps closely with areas of the brain regulating emotions, arousal, pleasure, and cognition.” (Rana, Akhtar, & North, 2011)

Babikian and colleagues showed that the brain regions responsible for this same “reward/motivation, emotion, and arousal centers of the brain produces euphoria-inducing experiences (just like food, sex, and addicted drugs do) in very similar regions of the brain perceiving and processing musical experiences.” (Babikian et al., 2013)

This can explain how music can be utilized to help influence and regulate the functions of the brain and body. As suggested above music also reduces pain perceptions by blocking pain impulses to the brain at the spinal cord and releases endorphins, which also help people to feel good. (Babikian et al., 2013)

Neurological impairment can make people feel that they have lost touch with themselves. The personal nature of music can evoke memories and help individuals maintain a sense of identity. (Thompson et al., 2015) Music can help restore lost abilities, such as memory, speech, or motor deficits in dementia and stroke patients. Music can also help improve self-expression, social and shared communication, unify humanity, build connections among people in society, improving self-esteem and quality of life. (Babikian et al., 2013)

All in all if exposure to music can reduce stress and improve the immune system, then repeated exposure to music on a daily basis, could improve resistance to illness and to lead to better health. (Rana et al., 2011) Music also helps treat neurological impairment because it engages every part of the brain. Imaging studies show that listening and making music promotes activity and connection across regions of the brain that involve emotion, reward, cognition, sensation, and movement. Music is very beneficial for the mind and body. (Thompson et al., 2015)


Babikian, T., Zeltzer, L., Tachdjian, V., Henry, L., Javanfard, E., Tucci, L., ... & Tachdjian, R. (2013). Music as medicine: A review and historical perspective. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 19(5), 251-254.

Graham-Pole J.Illness and the Art of Creative Self-Expression. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications; 2000

Krout RE. (2006) Music listening to facilitate relaxation and promote wellness: integrated aspects of our neurophysiological responses to music. Arts Psychotherapy, 34(2):134–141

Pennebaker, J. W., & Chung, C. K. (2011). Expressive writing: Connections to mental and physical health. In H. S. Friedman (Ed.), Oxford handbook of health psychology (pp. 417-437). New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 

Rana, S. A., Akhtar, N., & North, A. C. (2011). Relationship between interest in music, health and happiness. Journal of Behavioural Sciences, 21(1), 48-67. 

Staricoff RL. Arts in health: a review of the medical literature. Accessed November 7, 2009

Stuckey, H. L., & Nobel, J. (2010). The connection between art, healing, and public health: a review of current literature. American journal of public health, 100(2), 254–263. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2008.156497

Thompson, W. F., & Schlaug, G. (2015). The healing power of music. Scientific American Mind, 26(2), 32-41.

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