10 Brilliant Discoveries Making Waves in Music Therapy Research

Stay informed on the most exciting and recent updates in music therapy

Music therapy is rapidly becoming a go-to treatment option for a variety of conditions, spanning from medical to mental health. If you’re curious about up-to-date discoveries in music therapy, check out these ten remarkable discoveries to emerge in the last year. 

1. Music can help in recovery from heart attacks

A recent discovery from a study on physical health and music therapy has shown that music therapy coupled with proper medication can reduce cardiovascular risks in those who have suffered heart attacks. Participants in the study listened to their favorite music sample everyday for seven years, and data concludes that the music listeners showed lower rates of heart failure and subsequent heart attacks compared to those who relied on medication alone.

Cardiology experts suggest that music was able to calm down activity in the sympathetic nervous system, which can cause ample cardiac issues when the system experiences increased activity. This study has shed light on the potential of music therapy being integrated into more cardiovascular health interventions. 

2. Music can help alleviate breast cancer symptoms

Recent research on music therapy and breast cancer showed that breast cancer patients reported diminished pain and fatigue following months of at-home music listening sessions. For six months, patients listened to music, including ambient and classical genres. Reports of reduced symptom severity and negative emotions were higher in the music-listening participants compared to those who didn’t complete the daily music sessions.

Music coaxes the brain to release pain relieving chemicals like dopamine and serotonin to improve physical comfort and invoke positive emotions. Music is far from a cure for breast cancer, but can undoubtedly aid patients in their recovery. 

Older person sitting in wheelchair
Stroke patients’ rehabilitation can be helped by music therapy.  Image courtesy of Pexels.com.

3. Music therapy can help stroke patients recover

A study conducted at Anglia Ruskin University has concluded that music therapy can help stroke patients rehabilitate neurologically, emotionally, and physically. After two years of music therapy sessions, patients improved finger and hand movements while practicing musical instruments. Patients also reported positive mood changes following therapy sessions.

These results evince music therapy’s influence on physical and emotional rehabilitation. Patients continued to participate in physical, mental health, and speech therapy sessions alongside music therapy sessions as well. The results of this study leave countless possibilities for music therapy’s influence on the human body. 

4. Music therapy can improve child asthma health outcomes

In a recent 2020 study, music therapy was proven to reduce hospitalizations and missed school days in asthmatic children. In the study, children were assigned to groups receiving either a single music therapy session, weekly group sessions, or no music therapy at all. The kids receiving weekly sessions yielded the lowest rates of subsequent hospitalization, emergency room visits, and missed school days.

Previous research has shown that music therapy can improve asthma symptoms affecting lung functioning and bronchial resistance. The benefits of music for those with asthma will hopefully continue to be discovered in future research. 

5. Music can help traumatic brain injury patients

A recent discovery in music therapy research shows that music combined with family recollection exercises could decrease physiological symptoms in traumatic brain injury patients. In a 2020 hospital study, patients participated in music-listening sessions and auditory exercises to jog their memories. Respiratory and heart rates along with blood pressure all decreased in patients receiving the combined treatment, compared to those who received neither treatments.

Music's calming effects can lead to relaxed breathing and lowered blood pressure. The soothing effects of music on the body leave an array of possibilities to be researched. 

Woman leaning back on couch smiling with her laptop in her lap. She's wearing headphones and listening to music.
Music therapy has been shown to reduce work stress. Image courtesy of Pexels.com.

6. Music can help employees with work stress

A 2020 study produced insightful research on music therapy and work stress. In the study, operating room staff listened to music for thirty minutes three times per day for a month. The staff reported high stress levels before the music  intervention--and the intervention showed significantly decreased reports of stress and emotional exhaustion.

Neuroimaging results have shown that positive music therapy experiences are correlated to decrease in the brain’s production of stress hormones, suggesting a bright future in stress and music therapy research. 

7. Music therapy can reduce depression and anxiety across cultures

A research study from 2020 concluded that group music therapy sessions successfully decreased levels of depression, anxiety, and distress in refugees. Adult Congolese refugees participated in weekly one hour group music therapy sessions for eight weeks. The sessions involved drumming, songwriting, and group singing. Participants later yielded reports of lowered depression, anxiety, and distress.

Music therapy’s effect on pleasant chemical releases in the brain are likely to explain these reductions along with the universality of music across cultures. This study suggests much promise in cross-cultural music therapy research. 

8. Music and aromatherapy combined are powerful destressors

A research study on music and aromatherapy interventions demonstrated that combined music and aromatherapy yielded lower reports of nursing stress and test anxiety compared to a single therapy. Nursing students were assigned to receive music, aromatherapy, or combined treatment. The combination condition had the lowest reported stress and test anxiety levels of the three study conditions.

Aromatherapy targets the central nervous system to create tranquil effects while music therapy affects the neuroendocrine system to relax nerves and release calming brain chemicals. The future of combined treatment research is promising based on these results. 

9. Brains synchronize during music therapy sessions

It was recently discovered that activity in both a therapist and client’s brain can synchronize during a music therapy session. A recent study was the first in music therapy research to utilize hyperscanning to measure brain activity in both a therapist and client. During the study’s therapy session, hyperscanning located identical moments of emotional change in both the client and therapists’ brains.

As the client had a breakthrough and brain activity displayed emotional change from negative to positive, the therapist’s brain soon followed with identical brain activity. The study suggests that this synchronization was due to the therapist reacting positively to the client‘s productive breakthrough. Research will hopefully continue to produce insight on music therapy sessions. 

Person holding the hand of a small infant in a hospital
Music therapy can tighten parent-child bonds. Image courtesy of Pexels.com.

10. Music therapy can strengthen bonds between premature infants and parents

A 2020 study concluded that music therapy interventions can aid premature infants in development and bonding with parents. In the study, parents visited their infants and performed exercises like humming and light touches in response to the infant’s movements and breathing patterns.

Parents reported having a closer child-parent bond strengthened by music therapy. The parent's singing and movements were also recorded to have stimulated the infants’ cognitive development. Music therapy research has a bright outlook in studying its social influence. 

Fields like medicine, mental health, and more will continue to be transformed by music therapy research. These ten notable music therapy discoveries promise a bright future in research and therapy interventions. 

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 19, 2021

Cristal Thomas
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