How Does Music Therapy Affect the Brain?

How Does Music Therapy Affect the Brain?

When a person seeks therapy, there are multiple options available. What probably comes to mind first when thinking of therapy is traditional “talk therapy,” in which a therapist sits in the office with a client and helps the client to process their emotions and overcome psychological issues, ranging from relationship problems to mental health conditions like depression. While this may be the most common form of individual therapy, another option that has become more popular is the use of music therapy, which can treat mental health conditions by positively impacting the brain. Through its impacts on the brain, music therapy can be beneficial for children who require intervention to assist with social skills development, and it may be more helpful than traditional talk therapy for this age group. 

What is Music Therapy?

Before diving into the specifics of how music therapy affects the brain, it’s helpful to have an understanding of what music therapy entails. According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is performed by a professional who has undergone a music therapy training program. In music therapy sessions, professionals use music to help people achieve therapeutic goals like reducing stress, expressing emotions, or improving their communication skills. Music therapy interventions can involve various activities, like writing lyrics to songs, singing, dancing, listening to music, or interpreting song lyrics alongside a music therapist.

Music Therapy & The Brain

One reason that music therapy is thought to be effective is because of the impact it has on the brain, and research has provided evidence to support this belief. One study with individuals with schizophrenia found that music therapy sessions increased alpha wave activity in the brain, which is meaningful, as alpha waves are associated with relaxation, comfort, and attention. Study authors concluded that stimulating the brain with music creates physical and emotional relief by increasing alpha wave activity. 


A second study found that music therapy activates specific areas of the brain involved in interpersonal relationships and social interactions. 


Music Therapy for Teaching Social Skills in Children 

Because of the positive effects of music therapy on the brain, music therapy interventions are utilized to teach social skills to children. Music therapy delivered in a group format can be especially beneficial for children with social skills deficits, as group sessions allow them to develop social connections by creating music with others. Music therapy can also teach emotional regulation skills, so children are better equipped to handle interpersonal conflict.


Research with children with autism has provided further evidence that music therapy is beneficial for teaching social skills. A study in the Journal of Music Therapy found that school-aged children with an autism diagnosis experienced improvements in social skills after completing 10 music therapy sessions over a five-week period of time. More specifically, children with autism were better able to show attention and responsiveness to peers after music therapy.


Based on hands-on research with music therapy, as well as studies analyzing the effects of music therapy on the brain, this type of intervention can be useful for children who would benefit from improving their social skills. Not only does music therapy activate parts of the brain involved in relaxation and social interaction; it can also be more engaging for children than sitting in a traditional “talk therapy” session and sharing their feelings with a counselor. 


Group music therapy is an ideal fit for children with social skills deficits, as a group setting provides children with an opportunity to interact with peers while under the guidance of a trained music therapist. If your child is on the spectrum or has another behavioral health condition, such as ADHD or anxiety, music therapy groups is one of many categories of group therapy that can help them to learn social skills, such as communicating with others, managing conflict, and showing respect for other people. 









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