On the Neural Mechanisms of Music Therapy in Mental Health Care: Literature Review and Clinical Implications


Alexander Legge


Music Therapy Perspectives




This article reviews literature from various disciplines in order to provide a conceptual framework for the neural mechanisms of music therapy in mental health treatment. Literature on the neurobiology of music-mediated emotion reveals distinct roles of several anatomical structures and neurotransmitters, many of which are also implicated in mental health disorders. Music's impact on these neural correlates is dependent upon several factors, such as harmonic structure, autobiographical relevance, the presence of multimodal stimuli, and level of music training. Music is also capable of activating specific neural networks through either music listening or active music-making, with distinct networks involved in different types of musical experiences. This article explores the neurobiological basis of music-induced emotion associated with each of the four types of music therapy experiences—receptive, re-creative, improvisational, and compositional. Clinical implications for music therapists in mental health settings are discussed. Music is also a known modulator of the neurochemistry of trust and social affiliation, highlighting its ability to help establish therapeutic connections. Relevant literature is examined regarding the neural mechanisms of effective music therapy and psychotherapy interventions in mental health treatment. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)

Music and Health Institute Terms

Mental Health; Music Therapy; Recreative Music Methods; Wellness and Well-Being

Indexed Terms

mental health care; neurobiology; treatment; Mental Health Services

Study Type

Editorial, Opinions, Position Papers

Document Type