While, the findings of 4 studies indicated reduced depression symptoms in participants receiving music therapy compared to those who did not, the fifth study did not show any difference as such. In fact, advantages of music seemed to be highest when therapists used theory-based therapeutic techniques rather than "winging it."
The study was led by Anna Maratos, head of profession for Arts Therapies at the Central and Northwest London NHS Foundation Trust,
"In the four studies where there was an impact, there was a very coherent theoretical framework, a very coherent explanation of what
went on in the session and obvious reasons why the therapists were there. In the study that showed no effect, there didn't seem to be any theoretical underpinning to the intervention. We have no idea why the therapist was there, really," said Maratos.
Therapeutic interventions included listening to music in groups, body movement and painting to music, and improvised singing. And regular reviews described evidence-based conclusions about medical practice
after taking into account both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.
The researchers aimed for finding randomized controlled trials that compared music therapy with other, more traditional interventions for depression. However, they discovered a lack of rigorous research. The researchers did not pool the results for meta-analysis due to little or no uniformity in study approaches, study populations or therapeutic
According to Maratos, even though the fifth study did
not meet reviewers' eligibility criteria, it was included because it was the only study with a certified professional coordinating the sessions.
Music therapy was defined by the reviewers as an intervention planned to improve health status that included musical interaction between therapist and patient within a structured theoretical framework and in
which outcomes were born of music, talk inspired by music or therapeutic
relationships. Conversely, each study author had his or her own definition of standard care which included pharmacological, routine hospital and cognitive therapeutic treatment.
While 3 studies focused on adults above 60, 1 study looked at adults between ages 21 and 65; and 1 focused on 14- and 15-year-old
Even though the studies did not come up with a particular cause-and-effect relationship between music therapy and clinical improvement in depression, a positive correlation was found identified. The
researchers assigned the disproportionate results to the wide-ranging uses of music by therapists in the studies and the relative weakness of some researchers' methods.
The scientists discovered abnormally high levels of participation and compliance among patients receiving the interventions.
Shara Sand, Psy.D., clinical assistant professor of psychology at Yeshiva University in New York City, seconded the researchers' conclusion that meta-analysis was not possible in the review, but insisted that the evidence of music's influence on mood makes the research question interesting.
"It does make me wonder: What is standardized treatment [in music therapy]? There's really a whole avenue of research that should be done," said Sand.
She also said that music therapy may broadens the range of interventions available to people who might shy away from traditional approaches, saying "There's often an isolation and alienation; a difficulty connecting and with relatedness" for people with depression, and the music therapy might offer a less threatening option.
The review is published in the most recent issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research.