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Study: Music Therapy Helps Brain Sync with Therapist

An innovative study reveals that the brains of a patient and therapist become synchronized during a music therapy session. The first-time finding is viewed as a breakthrough that could improve future interactions between patients and therapists.

The study was the first to use a procedure called hyperscanning, which records activity in two brains at the same time, allowing researchers to better understand how people interact.

During the session documented in the study, classical music was played as the patient discussed a serious illness in her family. Both patient and therapist wore EEG (electroencephalogram) caps containing sensors, which capture electrical signals in the brain, and the session was recorded in sync with the EEG using video cameras.

The research was performed by Anglia Ruskin University faculty Professor Jorg Fachner and Dr. Clemens Maidhof. The study appears in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

The authors explain that music therapists work towards “moments of change,” where they make a meaningful connection with their patient. This was evidence as at one point during this study, the patient’s brain activity shifted suddenly from displaying deep negative feelings to a positive peak.

Moments later, as the therapist realized the session was working, her scan displayed similar results. In subsequent interviews, both identified that as a moment when they felt the therapy was really working.

The researchers examined activity in the brain’s right and left frontal lobes where negative and positive emotions are processed, respectively.

By analyzing hyperscanning data alongside video footage and a transcript of the session, the researchers were able to demonstrate that brain synchronization occurs, and also show what a patient-therapist “moment of change” looks like inside the brain.

Fachner, the lead author and a Professor of Music, Health and the Brain at ARU comments:

“This study is a milestone in music therapy research. Music therapists report experiencing emotional changes and connections during therapy, and we’ve been able to confirm this using data from the brain.

“Music, used therapeutically, can improve well-being, and treat conditions including anxiety, depression, autism and dementia. Music therapists have had to rely on the patient’s response to judge whether this is working, but by using hyperscanning we can see exactly what is happening in the patient’s brain.

“Hyperscanning can show the tiny, otherwise imperceptible, changes that take place during therapy. By highlighting the precise points where sessions have worked best, it could be particularly useful when treating patients for whom verbal communication is challenging.

“Our findings could also help to better understand emotional processing in other therapeutic interactions.”

Source: Anglia Ruskin University/EurekAlert

Study: Music Therapy Helps Brain Sync with Therapist

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2019). Study: Music Therapy Helps Brain Sync with Therapist. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 29 Jul 2019 (Originally: 29 Jul 2019)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 29 Jul 2019
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