Music therapy has been found to significantly lower depression and improve self-esteem in children and teens ages 8 to 16 with behavioral and emotional problems, according to a new study by researchers at Bournemouth University and Queen’s University Belfast in the U.K.
The study, conducted in partnership with Every Day Harmony (the brand name for Northern Ireland Music Therapy Trust), also found that young people 13 and over who received music therapy experienced improvement in communication and interaction skills, compared to those who received typical care alone.
“Music therapy has often been used with children and young people with particular mental health needs, but this is the first time its effectiveness has been shown by a definitive randomized controlled trial in a clinical setting,” said Ciara Reilly, chief executive of Every Day Harmony.
“The findings are dramatic and underscore the need for music therapy to be made available as a mainstream treatment option. For a long time we have relied on anecdotal evidence and small-scale research findings about how well music therapy works. Now we have robust clinical evidence to show its beneficial effects.”
Music therapy is delivered by a certified therapist who has at least 1,200 hours of clinical training in music, psychology and medicine.
The study involved 251 children and young people who were all being treated for emotional, developmental or behavioral problems. The participants were divided into two groups: 128 underwent the usual care options, while 123 were assigned to music therapy in addition to usual care. The research took place between March 2011 and May 2014.
Specifically, children aged eight to 16 who received music therapy saw significant improvement in self-esteem as well as a significant reduction in depression compared with those who received treatment without music therapy. Young people aged 13 and older who received music therapy had improved communicative and interactive skills compared to those who received standard care.
Music therapy also improved social functioning over time in all age groups.
“This study is hugely significant in terms of determining effective treatments for children and young people with behavioural problems and mental health needs,” said study leader Professor Sam Porter of the Department of Social Sciences and Social Work at Bournemouth University.
“The findings contained in our report should be considered by healthcare providers and commissioners when making decisions about the sort of care for young people that they wish to support.”
The research team will now look at the data to establish how cost-effective music therapy is in relation to other treatments.
“This is the largest study ever to be carried out looking at music therapy’s ability to help this very vulnerable group,” said co-researcher Dr. Valerie Holmes from the Centre for Public Health, School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast.
Source: Bournemouth University