Music Therapy to Regulate Arousal and Attention in Patients With Substance Use Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Feasibility Study

Laurien Hakvoort
Sirik de Jong
Maartje van de Ree
Tim Kok
Clare Macfarlane
Hein de Haan


Patients diagnosed with both substance use disorder (SUD) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) often experience hypervigilance, increased fear, and difficulties regulating emotions. This dual diagnosis increases treatment complexity. Recently, a short-term music therapy intervention for arousal and attention regulation (the SMAART intervention) was designed based on neurobiological findings. Twelve patients with SUD and PTSD (50% females) in outpatient treatment participated in six weekly one-hour sessions of the SMAART intervention. Six patients completed the study. PTSD symptom severity was evaluated with the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptom Scale Interview for DSM–5 (PSSI-5) pre- and post-intervention, and sustained attention was evaluated with the Bourdon–Wiersma (BW) test. A significant difference in measurements for the PSSI-5 overall symptom severity was found pre- and post-intervention. Furthermore, participants showed significant improvement on subscales of hyperarousal, mood and cognition, and attention. The BW test completion time decreased significantly. Two participants dropped out before the end of the intervention due to craving. Concerning future research, it is recommended to define the role of the music more explicitly and to change the design to a randomized controlled trial. A risk for future larger studies is a high dropout rate (50%). Several limitations of the study are discussed.