Does Virtual Music Therapy Work?

For Parkinson's Patients + Caregivers, Yes!

Music therapy is a growing form of therapy that is gaining more traction and awareness all the time. In essence, music therapy is the evidence-based use of music in a clinical setting to accomplish the goals set forth in the therapeutic relationship. And music therapy can be used for a really wide ranging array of different ailments. It can be used to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. It can be used as a form of speech therapy that has proven particularly effective for patients who suffered from a stroke.

Research shows that music therapy has benefits to offer for people with dementia, brain injuries, strokes, Parkinson’s, cancer, Autism Spectrum Disorder, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, learning and developmental disabilities, and acute and chronic pain.

Each treatment plan is made custom to the individual patient to best accomplish the goals that they and their doctor have set out for them. But like all forms of medicine in the modern day there is a real pull to move a lot of music therapy online into virtual music therapy sessions. The same way you have a telemedicine visit with your doctor, you would have a telemedicine visit with your music therapist. And this has raised a lot of questions. The most prominent of which is “Does virtual music therapy work?” And it’s a fair question I think. There is something really special about having the music being played live in the room for you. Essentially people are wondering if something is inherently lost in the music therapy process by not having the therapist (and by extension the music) live in the room with the patient.

But early research with Parkinson's patients is showing that yes! Virtual music therapy does work. Check out the article below to find out how and why music therapy has been shown to be successful even in a virtual setting!

virtual music therapy is self care through your headphones
Music therapy is the listening to, or playing of music, in a structured way to achieve medical results.

Early Research Shows Music Therapy Does Work in A Virtual Environment.

Virtual Group Music Therapy Sessions Were Shown to Be Quite Effective

One of the things that makes music therapy unique as a form of medicine is that it can be done in a group setting. In this way one therapist can provide the benefits of music therapy to multiple patients who are all suffering from the same issue at the same time. Which makes the whole process an incredibly efficient form of dispensing medicine.

Now the nice thing about this is that even in a virtual setting, music therapy can still be done in a group setting. Afterall, whether you are using Skype, Zoom, or Google Meet, a whole bunch of people can be in on one video call. Which makes the therapists’ life really convenient.

And while not every form of music therapy is effective in a group setting, group music therapy has been shown to be effective for treating Parkinson’s. One of the big issues that comes along with Parkinson’s disease is a real decrease in mood and a feeling of apathy or hopelessness. Apathy is defined as a lack of motivation to achieve one’s goals and it is estimated to affect 40% of people who suffer from Parkinson’s.

And there are a few ways you can try to beat feelings of apathy. You can try antidepressant medication. Physical exercise. Using cheerful or upbeat music to elevate your mood, or by spending time with other people and finding joy in community. Afterall, human beings are social creatures and we find a lot of our fundamental joy in spending time with others. And this makes group music therapy a particularly effective form of therapy for patients suffering from Parkinson’s.

Researchers concluded that over one-third of people with Parkinson’s Diseases reported an increased interest in activities and their personal hobbies. And over half of the studies participants either restarted an old hobby or started a new one by the end of the study. And those are pretty great numbers. There’s few things more in opposition to apathy than starting a new hobby or falling back in love with an old one.

woman filling out paper work in a therapists office
Therapy, like many forms of medicine, is moving to a more virtual environment. Will music therapy follow?

How Effective Was Virtual Music Therapy for Patients?

And How Did the Caregivers Feel About the Process?

This particular study consisted of hour-long sessions held once a week for 12 weeks. So over the course of about 3 months, music therapists were able to get half of Parkinson’s patients to substantially shake off their feelings of apathy. Each session would include five or six pairs of patients and their caregiver. The caregivers would do a check-in, everybody would do vocal exercises. Participate in drumming, and then therapeutic group singing. Then finally the session would conclude with another check-in and a few minutes of deep breathing.

And it’s important to note that all of the Parkinson’s patients reported substantial feelings of apathy when they first entered the study. And by the end of it over half of them had started a new hobby. They reported a statistically significant drop in apathy scores and the scores for depression also decreased dramatically. And by the end of the study most of the patients rated their satisfaction with the music therapy program as a 9.5 on a scale from 1 to 10. Which I would say pretty conclusively proves that music therapy is effective in a virtual environment. At least for these particular patients.

The caregivers in the study rated their satisfaction highly. They gave it a 9 out of 10. However, the caregivers also noted that Parkinson’s patients may need their own individual music therapy sessions. So that way their individual goals can be pursued fully and the treatment can be customized between the patient and the therapist.

medical provider giving therapy over zoom
Early research is showing that virtual music therapy does work!

The Results So Far Show Virtual Music Therapy Does Work

But There Is Tons of Research That Still Needs to Be Done

It’s always reassuring to see any sort of non-pharmaceutical treatment be successful in 21st Century America. While pharmaceuticals are undoubtedly often an effective treatment for practically any illness or disease you might have, our medical professionals seem to overly rely on them.

So I personally am glad to see that this study was successful. This was really the first study that has been done on whether or not virtual music therapy works. There is a ton of research that still needs to be done and virtual music therapy is still in its infancy. But so far the news is positive.

Hopefully more research is conducted on the application of music therapy in a virtual format. It’s already been shown effective for Parkinson’s patients, but there are a whole slew of other people (remember that list of different ailments I laid out earlier?) that might be able to benefit from the virtual application of music therapy.

therapy group hugging
Group music therapy has been shown to be effective for Parkinson’s patients in both personal and virtual environments!

In Conclusion, Yes Virtual Music Therapy Does Work!

Although there has been very little research conducted on virtual music therapy, the early research that is in is a resounding yes. Music therapy can be an effective form of treatment even in a virtual environment. Hopefully the next phase of research explores how music therapy can be used in one on one virtual sessions between the caregiver and their patient. It would also be exciting to see diseases other than Parkinson’s explored.

Music therapy is effective for everything from strokes to anxiety disorders, so there are a lot of people out there who could seriously benefit from music therapy being widely available online. The sooner we have the research to back up its use, the sooner we can start getting effective music therapy to people around the country in an easy to use virtual format.

TL;DR Music therapy has been shown to be quite effective for group sessions for Parkinson’s patients who were suffering from high levels of apathy. This initial research had very promising results for the future of virtual music therapy, but more research is needed.

Anthony Stockton
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