Music Therapy for Depression Using Biological Markers
Music has the potential to be an effective treatment for depression, with growing evidence indicating its benefits in both mild and moderate degrees of the condition.
Studies have demonstrated that listening to music can significantly lower heart rate, blood pressure, stress levels and feelings of sadness. Furthermore, guided imagery techniques using music have also been proven successful.
Receptive music therapy has been found to be a useful and successful treatment for depression (Grocke & Bruscia, 2002; Grocke & Bruscia, 2007). Guided imagery with music aims to facilitate clients’ experiences of unfolding images through pre-designed programs and conversations with the therapist.
Receptive music-based approaches in psychiatric and medical settings have many clinical applications, such as developing coping skills or creating community. A recent study demonstrated that the Bonny method of guided imagery and music (BMGIM) was successful at helping those suffering from anxiety disorders to explore their experiences in a relaxed state while encouraging them to enter more focused mode of processing and expression.
Psychodynamic improvisational music therapy has also been proven effective for treating depression, with patients reporting significant improvements on measures of mood and well-being following treatment. Brain imaging data supports these results; an EEG study revealed changes to frontal alpha asymmetry and midline theta activity after 3 months of psychodynamic improvisational music therapy for depressed clients.
This study focused on a group of depressed working-age adults aged 19 to 45 years who had received music therapy over six weeks. Participants were randomly allocated into groups based on whether or not they had two musical enhancers: Radiofrequency Brain Potential (RFB) and Lithium Heteroatomism (LH).
Music therapy sessions lasted two hours and began with group-based improvisational music making in the first half. Afterward, the therapist used these musical improvisations as a catalyst for conversation with the depressed client in the second half.
Researchers discovered that changes in vocal pitch and physical movement during musical interactions were related to changes in clients’ self-reported depression scores at the end of music therapy sessions. These findings suggest that these communicative behaviors may be an accurate marker for mental health change, making it easier for therapists to detect in their clients and streamline diagnosis and monitoring for those suffering from depression.
The identification of reliable behavioral markers could enhance and supplement existing methods for depression diagnosis and monitoring, which often rely on subjective judgments that are subject to bias. Such a tool would provide an objective basis for assessing and tracking individuals’ progress through music therapy sessions, enabling more precise intervention – particularly beneficial when treating older individuals who are more prone to developing mood disorders than younger individuals.