There is no doubt that music has a powerful effect on our emotions. Watch any thriller and notice how the music can make you anxious for the hero, tense at the build up to a scene and calm when all the action is over. Pop music often pulls at our heartstrings and has an uncanny ability to get us moving. My young children, who hate to pick up their toys, will gladly hop up and start packing the toys away when I put on a little upbeat ABBA.
Psychological treatments have not completely ignored music. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), music is suggested as a tool to distract you from intense and painful emotion and to calm and soothe yourself when stressed and overwhelmed.
A new study in the journal Arts in Psychotherapy suggests that beyond distracting and self-soothing, music may improve psychological functioning. In this study patients with mild to moderate depression were split into 2 groups. One group received traditional psychotherapy, while the other received music therapy. The music therapy group listened to 50 minutes of classical and baroque music daily for eight weeks. At the end of the trial the music therapy group had less depressive symptoms than the psychotherapy alone group.
But don’t rush out and cancel therapy. Although the results are promising and confirm what you may have already experienced with music, the researchers recommend that you consider music to enhance (not replace) psychological support. These results do suggest that music can be used to distract, soothe and even to create a more positive mood. They are a reminder of the power that sometimes simple strategies can have to change your psychological functioning.