Music therapy

“Music expresses what cannot be said and what is impossible to remain silent about.”

V. Hugo

We all know that music has a huge impact on how we feel. One sad song makes us melancholy, while another gives us the motivation to clean the house. Anyone who has experience of making music themselves or who sings from time to time can confirm that this effect is even more pronounced. This is where music therapy comes in. When making music, people with trauma and other mental illnesses can express things that are otherwise difficult for them to say or that they cannot even speak about with words.

Music as therapy

Because music triggers thoughts, feelings and memories in us, it is used as a therapy method and serves as a supplement to language and can replace it. Here, instruments become a means for communication and exchange, and patients can discover their own creativity and let it run free. Making the unspeakable audible is a relief, regardless of whether you are a musician: in or consider yourself unmusical. Afterwards, what has been heard or played is discussed and classified.

In fact, music therapy is a very popular form of treatment in Germany that can be found in many psychiatric and psychosomatic institutions. It can take place in a group of three to six participants or alone with a therapist. This is primarily about activating and processing emotional processes. But the interpersonal communicative process of exchange also plays a role.

Goals of music therapy

In general, music therapy aims to restore, maintain and promote the health of body and soul. Specifically, it can help alleviate physical and emotional stress and improve both concentration and the mood of the patient. The creativity of musical work brings with it a strengthened self-perception and an improved personality structure. The unspeakable is captured in sound, and therapy can alleviate tension and affect disorders.

Not only are your own emotional processes activated and processed here, but they are also mirrored and an interaction with the therapist takes place. Whether in the group or just with the treating person, the external perception of one’s own actions, communication and group experience are beneficial. Mental illnesses that can be treated with music therapy include side effects of PTSD such as depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and personality disorders.

What does such a therapy look like?

In general, music therapy can be divided into two areas: receptive and (inter)active. One speaks of receptive music therapy when the treatment consists of various interventions. The focus here is on listening to the music and the patient: music is played live or from a sound carrier. Receptive music therapy is mainly used for patients who no longer want or can no longer play. Active music therapy, however, is used far more frequently.

If patients are active themselves, music therapy is usually a matter of improvisation. There are again three areas, one differentiates between supportive, empathic and confrontational playing techniques. Even if they all essentially aim at common action, communication and emotional resonance, they differ in their approach and intensity and are applied depending on the situation.

There are no limits to the musical modes of expression in music therapy, instruments such as drums, small percussion, stick games, string instruments, wind and keyboard instruments are often used. But there is also space for digital media or your own body as an instrument. Here hands, feet and your own voice come into play, just as the patient imagines it.


Tucek & Fritz-Ipsmiller: Musical approach. (2019).

Reuster et al .: Occupational therapy, art, music, sports and exercise therapy for mental disorders. (2017).