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How Reliable is Music Therapy?



  1. consistently good in quality or performance; able to be trusted.

All services, including therapy, are judged on the skills, quality and outcomes of the service/provider.

For this blog post, I take the #caseformusictherapy on a journey through the lens of where most service-based choices are made – safety, outcomes and customer satisfaction experience.


After a quick Google search on whether music therapy is deemed safe, I found Healthlink BC who makes the following statement: Music therapy is considered safe.

The Cleveland Clinic expands on this statement by making a list of what music can do:

  • Affect the body by changing the heart rate and lowering blood pressure, body temperature, and respiration (breathing) rate.
  • Help improve quality of life, lessen feelings of isolation, and provide an increased sense of control.
  • Call up repressed (bottled up) emotions that may now be released.
  • Open the door spiritually and allow patients and families the opportunity to explore their own spiritual beliefs.
  • Physically stimulate conscious or unconscious body movements, such as toe-tapping or large body movements, and improved gait (walking) and speech.
  • Bring people together socially, not just at large gatherings such as parties, weddings, or funerals, but in more informal, intimate shared experiences.

Much of the safety when using music in therapy, therefore, rests on the practitioner. It is the responsibility of the therapist to ensure their patient feels safe to move forward through the therapeutic process.  Whatever paradigms a therapist might use, safety is the necessary foundation for all subsequent work. The music therapy profession ensures that all education, training, certification, and regulation uphold these standards.


Here are a few links to learn more about some of what people are experiencing when they engage in music therapy:

Easing anxiety and discomfort during procedures. In controlled clinical trials of people having colonoscopies, cardiac angiography, or knee surgery, those who listened to music before their procedure had less anxiety and less need for sedatives.

Helping with physical therapy and rehabilitation. Music therapy has been used in rehabilitation to stimulate brain functions involved in movement, cognition, speech, emotions, and sensory perceptions.

Aiding pain relief. Music therapy has been tested in a variety of patients, ranging from those with intense short-term pain to those with chronic pain from arthritis. Music therapy decreases pain perception, reduces the amount of pain medication needed, helps relieve depression in pain patients, and gives them a sense of better control over their pain in approximately 50% of the patients.

Improving the quality of life for people living with dementia. Because the ability to engage with music remains intact late into the disease process, music therapy can help to reduce the behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia (BPSD) – especially over time.

More Outcomes: Effectiveness of music therapy: a summary of systematic reviews based on randomized controlled trials of music interventions – summarize the evidence for the effectiveness of music therapy and to assess the quality of systematic reviews based on randomized controlled trials. This comprehensive summary shows that music therapy improves the following: global and social functioning in schizophrenia and/or serious mental disorders, gait and related activities in Parkinson’s disease, depressive symptoms, and sleep quality. Music therapy may have the potential for improving other diseases, but there is not enough evidence at present. It is important to note that no specific adverse effect or harmful phenomenon occurred in any of the studies, and MT was well tolerated by almost all patients.

For added interest there is recent evidence using hyper scanning that demonstrates how the therapist and client’s brain works in sync during music therapy.

Like many human services more research is required, and always be needed.  Music therapists, other professionals and academics are ensuring evidence is constantly being sought.

Client Satisfaction with Music Therapy

Once a year our community-based music therapy organization requests feedback from our clients to determine their satisfaction.  The results are  mostly favourable with areas for improvement.  Our goal is always to a improve.

The development and validation of the Music Therapy Practice Scale (MTPS) – a quantitative 15-item scale for self-assessing music therapy practice is another tool that has been developed. Preliminary evidence supports the use of MTPS for understanding and self-assessing the practice of music therapy students and post-graduate music therapists. The scale could also be applied to further research investigating the correlation between music therapy practice and other constructs, such as self-esteem and self-efficacy. 

In conclusion to assure reliability the music therapist’s role is to ensure that music is used under the highest of ethical standards and with the largest body of knowledge. Music, a powerful resource, can do great things but it can also cause harm by bringing up lost or undesired memories. It can strike tones that hurt your ears and can take individuals into a place of agitation. The music therapist monitors each individual response carefully and acts accordingly.