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Music Therapy in Rehab

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

Medically reviewed by

David Hunter, MA.Ed, LPC

February 28, 2019

An alternative type of treatment, music therapy is sometimes used to aid in the treatment of addiction. While not an evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders, some of our facilities will expose patients to music activities and services to enhance the rehab experience.

What Is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is a type of therapy which utilizes music and expression to help deal with emotions and feelings. People recovering from drug and alcohol abuse may be undergoing a range of emotions, and may not have a way to deal with them; music therapy helps provide an outlet for those emotions. As an article in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Institutes of Health explains, “just like art therapy, it is thought to help patients tap into emotions and needs that may be difficult to express through more traditional forms of communication.”

Music therapy may also create a means for motivating patients to attend treatment—it gives them something to look forward to and enjoy. In this type of treatment, healing can be both useful and fun. Activities that may happen in treatment include lyrical analysis, musical games, music improvisation based on emotions or other events related to treatment, songwriting, and training in relaxation techniques. Further, “in these treatments, patients go beyond simply listening to music to engage emotions, motivations, and barriers to recovery through lyrics and melody.”

What Happens In Music Therapy?

A typical music therapy session can include a number of activities. Though session setup depends on the therapist, activities may occur loosely based on a number of therapeutic musical activities. For example, Kathleen Killeen, a therapist working in Philadelphia at an outpatient clinic which specializes in the treatment of methadone for opiate addiction, structures her sessions to include a number of activities.

These activities include:

  • Idea generation for music videos
  • Interactive discussion
  • Music appreciation listening
  • Reading pertinent, informational articles, including musician interviews or biographies
  • Singing—solo or as a group
  • Watching videos

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Who Can Participate In Music Therapy?

Patients can attend music therapy individually or in a group setting, depending on what is offered. It is often an outpatient form of treatment, but some rehab centers may offer it as an alternative form of therapy. Typically, it is offered in addition to other treatment methods, such as medication, counseling, and behavioral therapy.

While many people may find music therapy a useful addition to treatment, it may be particularly effective for women and adolescents. These two groups are often underrepresented in the substance abuse treatment realm (especially women), and music therapy may provide a helpful alternative. Also, as the U.S. National Library of Medicine explains, “adolescents, in particular, use music and drugs for similar objectives (e.g. reduce psychological distress), suggesting particular utility for music therapy in adolescent populations.”

How Does Music Therapy Work For Treatment Of Substance Abuse?

So, in music therapy people come together and participate in musically-related activities, but how does this work to treat these people? Killeen, as reported by, “finds that patients more frequently acknowledge and are more open to discussing trauma” through music.

Other forms of therapy may have resulted in patients’ feelings being received as numb. In addition, “in some cases, multiple dual-diagnosis hospitalizations have left patients confused about contradictory psychiatric impressions and labels.” This confusion may lead to a fear or resentment for continual traditional treatments. Music therapy can offer an alternative that taps into patient emotions without the feel of a typical therapy session.

For people suffering from abuse because their family has a history of it, they may also experience a supportive group acceptance they may have not previously experienced.

Participants connect through music. Music, as part of the humanities, allows for a creative environment, and through it, patients may begin to heal. What’s more, the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) states that, “ research indicates that music therapy is effective at reducing muscle tension and anxiety, and at promoting relaxation, verbalization, interpersonal relationships, and group cohesiveness.”

Perhaps one of the best outcomes though is that, “a therapist can talk with a client, but a qualified music therapist can use music to actively link a client to their psycho-emotional state quickly.” The AMTA also found that music therapy, when used actively in treatment settings, can lead to a shorter stay for overall treatment and more efficient responses to the treatment.

Do Rehab Centers Offer This Treatment?

Music therapy may be offered as part of outpatient care. “Outpatient” care occurs outside rehab facilities. However, some rehab centers are adding music therapy as part of their alternative forms of treatment, and music therapy may be suggested for those who do not respond to traditional methods. If you are looking for music therapy as a form of treatment, you may want to first research the facility you’re considering to see if they offer it.

How Can I Find Music Therapy Treatment?

When entering treatment, there can be so many details thrown at you, and it can be confusing, perhaps overwhelming. If you are looking for alternative treatment methods, but want to know more about them first, we can help. Maybe you are looking at specific treatment centers, and want to learn more—we can help with that, too. Contact us today at to be connected to our experts who can help you begin your treatment journey.

American Music Therapy Association - Music Therapy Interventions

Social Work Today - Recovery Sings: Successful Music Therapy For Patients In Substance Use Programs

U.S. National Library Of Medicine National Institutes Of Health - The Use Of Art And Music Therapy In Substance Abuse Treatment Programs

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