Music therapy to cure depression, chronic pain and other diseases become popular in India


Be it legendary Mozart’s soothing symphonies, mesmerising classical renditions from the doyen of Carnatic music MS Subbulakshmi or tranquil instrumental tunes, music therapy is increasingly being used for patients suffering from depression, anxiety, autism, chronic pain, Alzheimer’s, coronary artery disease and even cancer in India.

Worldwide, specially-trained musicians are emerging as music therapists to help patients, especially in chronic and painful conditions, to help patients recover faster.

Although there are not many trained therapists available in the hospital setting in India at present, the trend globally is slowly catching up with the Indian health providers, who now realise the clinical and evidence-based benefits of music.

“Many a time, music is being used alongside other therapies, particularly in patients suffering from depression and anxiety. Music is also being used as part of therapy for children suffering from autism and patients suffering from auditory hallucinations alongside medication,” explained Dr Sameer Malhotra, director (mental health and behavioural sciences) from Max Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi.

“We are also using light instrumental music and even Indian classical music for relaxation and as part of therapies for patients suffering from depression, anxiety or undergoing other treatments,” he told IANS.

Listening to “relaxing music” has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety in healthy patients undergoing invasive medical procedures like surgery, colonoscopy and dental procedures or patients coping with coronary heart disease and cancer.

During psychiatric consultations, Dr Jyoti Kapoor, consultant psychiatrist at Paras Hospital in Gurgaon, often advises patients to pick music of their choice to induce sleep or use peppy music to motivate them to exercise.

“One of my patients with alcohol addiction was able to reduce alcohol craving by pursuing his singing hobby when the cravings hit hard. Over a period of time, he completely stopped drinking in the evenings and instead trained himself further in music,” she said.

Dancing is another component of behavioural response to music that has helped another patient of her with depression to recover completely.

“Listening to music releases neurochemicals through the limbic system (brain structures that deal with emotions as well as memories). It also restores the neurochemical balance. The recovery depends on the genre of music being applied so we have to be careful in selecting music according to patient’s needs,” Dr Malhotra explains.

Music therapy covers all aspects of the patients like physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, cognitive and social needs.

“After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the qualified music therapist can provide the indicated use including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music,” elaborates Dr Nupur Gupta, gynaecologist and obstetrician from Well Woman Clinic in Gurgaon.

Music reduces levels of stress hormone called cortisol. Additionally, there are changes that occur in other neurohormones related to the mood states of mind.

Dopamine is one such hormone that is involved in producing the pleasurable sensations, thus enhancing positive emotions and diminishing depressive states.

“For example, there is evidence suggesting an effect of Mozart’s music on dopamine system which reduces depression. However, there are factors that determine the effect of music and these include the personality and the cognitive traits of a person,” informs Dr Shilpa Aggarwal, consultant child and youth psychiatrist from Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital in Mumbai.

“Receptive therapy takes place in a more relaxed setting where the therapist plays or makes music to the patient who is free to draw, listen or meditate. Usually the therapist determines the method unless specifically requested by the patient,” adds Dr Gupta.

“Live piano and even recorded instrumental music have been the most useful in my clinical practice,” she said.

“Music therapy also helps stabilise moods, identify a range of emotions and improve self-expression,” elaborates cardiologist Dr Lekha Pathak, also the executive president of the Heart Foundation of India.

There is plenty of evidence for music therapy reducing depressive symptoms in adult population when compared to placebo and psychotherapy.

“We have seen that children with behavioural and emotional problems who received music therapy had significantly improved self-esteem and significantly reduced depression compared with those who received treatment without music therapy,” Dr Aggarwal notes.

Music therapy is now becoming mainstream with the Indian healthcare system. The day may not be far when professional music therapists become full-timers at hospitals, say health experts.