Depression – How Music Therapy Can Help


It seems that every time we turn on the television, open a newspaper or magazine, or look on the internet, we find evidence of the prevalence of depression. Sad to say, it is a common diagnosis these days, both for adults and children. Of course, on these media outlets we also find many examples of “pills” that purport to help alleviate depression. And, some of them likely work on occasion…but, what about all those side effects?!

all shook upAs a Board Certified Music Therapist and holding certification and licenses in Mental Health Counseling and Music Psychotherapy, I want to suggest that Music Psychotherapy can offer a positive and actionable alternative to “popping a pill” if you (or your child) are exhibiting symptoms of depression.

So, what are the symptoms of depression? The Mayo Clinic includes the following in its definition:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities, such as sex, hobbies, or sports
  • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Changes in appetite — often reduced appetite and weight loss, but increased cravings for food and weight gain in some people
  • Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures, or blaming yourself for things that aren’t your responsibility
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

The Mayo staff goes on to say, “For many people with depression, symptoms usually are severe enough to cause noticeable problems in day-to-day activities, such as work, school, social activities or relationships with others. Other people may feel generally miserable or unhappy without really knowing why.”

The statistics on teenage suicide rates are particularly staggering and indicate that looking at “alternative therapies” are very well worth examining. Yes, it’s a lot to take in and, although for some these feelings may be short-lived, for many they are issues that are with them on a continuous basis.

Music Therapy targets the psycho-social domain while also concentrating on the emotional and spiritual aspects of the individual. It is proven to improve mood and decrease anxiety and depression while increasing social interaction…something that generally alleviates depression. Music Therapy lights up the entire brain and, as a nonverbal medium, frequently makes it easier for the depressed individual to become engaged…to find success-oriented opportunities.Where taking medication may provide immediate but often temporary relief, Music Therapy arouses and activates motivation for participation in long-term recovery.

Music Psychotherapists like me specialize just like psychologists do. We use music therapy, filled with joy and metaphor, to assist clients in transferring their emotions, thoughts, and feelings onto the music and rhythm while engaging in the therapeutic process. The client is focused on the music/rhythm, not on the therapist. The music can reach beyond the client’s conscious mind…frequently beyond words.

It’s important to know that using Music Therapy with depressed patients is not simply “playing music”.  And, it’s not about performance or gaining musical skill. It’s about using rhythm, melody, and breath de-escalate stress related behavior and to allow the client to move beyond a depressed state towards a state of comfort and healing.

Kim McMillin

RN, MA, MT-BC, RPT, LMHC, LMFT (CO)
Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Board Certified Music Therapist
I am passionate about helping others to find the goodness within them and to heal the barriers that prevent them from embracing the Light of Goodness inside. Each of us comes into this world as a magnificent Sun. What often trips us up is that we learn to identify with the clouds -- ugly things...

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Spokane, WA 99202

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