Music Therapy and Schizophrenia (The Sound of Progression)

How Music Therapy can Treat Schizophrenia and Schizophrenia-like Symptoms.

Schizophrenia affects less than one percent of the United States population. That being said, there is plenty we still do not know about it. Because of its rarity, experimental treatments are quite popular.

Although there is no cure for Schizophrenia, music therapy acts as a consequence-free treatment and has research backing its success in improving symptoms.

In this post, we will discuss the effect of music therapy on Schizophrenic symptoms as well as:

  • What is Schizophrenia?
  • What are the symptoms?
  • What causes Schizophrenia?
  • And what are the risks?

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious and long-term mental syndrome that breaks down the relationship between thought, emotion, and behavior. This leads to faulty perception, inappropriate actions or feelings, altered reality, and a sense of mental fragmentation.  

In pop-culture, Schizophrenia is usually portrayed as a violent condition that leaves those diagnosed dependent -- for many patients, this is not the case. Under the appropriate treatment methods, individuals with Schizophrenia have a chance to enter the workplace, be independent, and develop relationships.

An abstract image of blue, red, and yellow faces merging.
“Schizo” can be translated in Greek as split and “phrenia” as mind. Image courtesy of Medscape.

Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Symptoms vary in Schizophrenia patients but commonly consist of delusions, hallucinations, and disorganized speech.

Here is a breakdown of frequent symptoms experienced by those diagnosed:

  • Delusions: These are beliefs that are not based on real events. Patients might think they are being harmed or harassed, they are famous, they are in love with a stranger, or feel impending doom.
  • Hallucinations: Hallucinations are seeing or hearing things that are nonexistent. The most common hallucination is hearing voices that are not there.
  • Disorganized thinking/speech: This refers to communication impairments that spark from partial thoughts -- mumbling, or speaking in a way that doesn’t make sense.
  • Odd Behavior: There is no set description -- behavior may include anything from acting childlike to an absence of movement.
  • Abnormal Function: The patient is unable to care for themselves or experience emotions, such as pleasure, They may also lose interest in everyday activities or socializing.
A pink and blue diagram showing the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Symptoms vary from person to person, but they can be generalized based on several factors. Image courtesy of Verywellmind.

Symptoms can be categorized into cognitive, psychotic, and negative effects:

  • Symptoms that are cognitive include attention, concentration, and memory impairment.
  • Psychotic symptoms alter perceptions and cause abnormal thinking and behaviors.
  • Negative symptoms are those which involve disinterest and a loss of motivation.


Science does not know the exact causes of Schizophrenia, but it has been linked to genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental factors.

You are more likely to have Schizophrenia if a family member has it, you have an abnormal brain structure, or if your neurotransmitters are imbalanced. Despite this, you may never actually have Schizophrenia unless it is triggered by environmental factors such as trauma or stress.

A diagram showing the brain with schizophrenia.
Reduced brain connections have also been linked to schizophrenia. Image courtesy of MedicalExpress.


Because of its severity, it is extremely important that Schizophrenia patients find a valid form of treatment.  If untreated, Schizophrenia may result in:

  • Suicide, suicide attempts, thoughts of suicide
  • Anxiety disorders such as OCD
  • Depression
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Inability to work or attend school
  • Financial instability
  • Homelessness
  • Social isolation
  • Health and medical issues
  • Being victimized
  • Aggressive behavior

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you or a loved one are at risk.

Music Therapy

For those with serious mental illnesses like Schizophrenia, music therapy is used to improve emotional and relational abilities, and address issues that words alone cannot.

Music therapists perform group therapy.
Each music therapist brings their own unique touches to a therapy session. Image courtesy of Duquesne University.

Treating Schizophrenia

Music therapy techniques consist of anything from playing an instrument or composing songs, to listening to music in group therapy sessions.

The American Music Therapy Association concluded that music therapy has the ability to improve the global state, mental state, general functioning, and social functioning in schizophrenia patients.

Specific outcomes highlighted in their study include:

  • Reduced muscle tension
  • Decreased anxiety/agitation
  • Enhanced interpersonal relationships
  • Increased motivation
  • Improved self-image
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Increased verbalization
  • Improved group cohesiveness
  • Successful and safe emotional release

Supporting Research

Music therapy has been appraised for its success in treating negative symptoms within schizophrenia patients.

An Oxford study asked the question, “Is music therapy (in combination with standard treatments) more effective than standard treatments alone when treating the negative symptoms of schizophrenia?”

They found that adding music therapy to the standard care of Schizophrenia patients was superior. Music therapy had only positive effects on negative symptoms and improved some aspects of cognitive functioning and behavior.

Another study linked music therapy’s capabilities to the number of sessions a patient has. The more sessions, the better the outcome.

The researchers ran eighteen trials with a total of 1,215 schizophrenic participants and found that music therapy improved mental state, global state, functioning, and the overall quality of life for the average patient.

Psychiatry Advisor interviewed Cheng Luo, Ph.D., professor of neuroimaging and neuro-engineering at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, about the effects of music therapy on schizophrenia finding:

“Music interventions may improve clinical symptoms in schizophrenia, especially for positive symptoms. Although these normalized effects were no longer sustained after 6 months, this represents a good option to improve the symptoms of schizophrenia, in addition to a stable drug treatment strategy” -- Dr. Luo.

Sadly, many people suffering from Schizophrenia do not seek help due to the stigma surrounding the syndrome. Schizophrenia is a time-oriented condition. This means that the longer you wait, the more likely it is that your symptoms will not improve. Music therapy is a creative and safe alternative to other experimental methods of treatment. Along with other forms of cognitive therapy and medication, music therapy can reduce schizophrenia and schizophrenia-like symptoms greatly.

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 17, 2021

Jessica Fortunato
Jessica Fortunato is a writer who also enjoys photography, music, and hiking.
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