The Effects of Music on Patients in Clinical Settings

Music has a strong impact on emotions. In psychology, this effect is sometimes considered a perceptual illusion. The brain imposes structure and order on the sequence of sounds that make up music, creating a new system of meaning and understanding.

This is true for all genres of music, whether the song is instrumental or has lyrics, and whether the music is played in the foreground or background. However, different aspects of music can have different effects on the emotions, and this can impact how a person experiences stress in their surroundings. Music also conjures up feelings and images associated with memory, both positive and negative, which can influence how new memories are formed.

People who own or manage businesses use in-store music to help patrons feel relaxed or energized. For clinical settings, the psychology of music can be especially helpful to ease the minds of clients or patients, make them feel at home, and reduce the stress they may otherwise feel about their visit.

The Positive Health Impact of Music

Music therapy is a growing field, with studies showing that certain genres of music can help elderly adults with dementia improve memory and mood, encouraging them to share memories of their lives. Listening to music with a faster tempo has been found to elevate physical energy, which can help when working out. In turn, working out releases endorphins that can improve mood and help with relaxation and stress management later.

Generally, music therapy in clinical settings has been found to help with a variety of issues. Music can help to:

  • Reduce agitation.
  • Manage stress.
  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Reduce heart rate.
  • Ease muscle tension.
  • Improve respiration and cardiac output.
  • Decrease the length of hospitalization.
  • Improve mood.
  • Ease pain and discomfort.
  • Lessen the need for high doses of medication.
  • Promote active, positive participation in treatment.
  • Improve meaningful time spent with caregivers and families.

Originally, music in healthcare settings, especially hospitals, was thought to be mentally or emotionally intrusive. Not everyone likes the same kinds of music or even having background noise at all, so imposing a specific soundtrack on people who were recovering from illness or injury was thought to be unhelpful. However, a 2016 study found that music in a hospital setting can evoke positive reactions, memories, and emotions in both patients and staff members, which helps everyone’s healing process overall. The study found that soothing music was found to reduce stress, blood pressure, and post-operative trauma, even compared to silence.

Several medical studies have found that listening to music can lower or moderate numerous biomarkers for stress. These effects were found regardless of the genre of music, how long the participants listened, and whether they could select their own music or not. An overview of 13 clinical studies on the effects of music found that listening could reduce the amount of cortisol, a stress hormone.

Another biomarker that was studied was blood glucose. This was found to lower when participants listened to music.

The majority of participants in 33 studies self-selected classical music to modulate their stress when they were able to pick music. This suggests that instrumental music could have a greater impact on managing the stress response. Another study of patients with Parkinson’s disease found that gentle music with a steady tempo, melody, and suitable mood could improve patients’ ability to walk.

Even people waiting for a standard checkup, or “well visit,” can benefit from listening to music while they wait. Positive emotions from music can help waiting patients feel positively about the doctor’s office or hospital. This encourages people to return to their physician’s office for routine preventative care, which can improve their lifespan and overall wellbeing, as well as reduce the societal financial burden of health issues that can be alleviated with such care.

Playlist Therapy

One unique approach to music therapy in clinical settings is playlist therapy. This approach to easing patients’ minds has been used in settings when a client has trouble talking to their therapist about emotions.

A 2016 study reported that there were seven benefits of playlist therapy.

  1. It increases relaxation and promotes anxiety release.
  2. It reduces loneliness and increases a sense of companionship.
  3. It promotes emotional release by creating, playing, and listening to music.
  4. It increases the sense of spiritual connection through themes in the music.
  5. It lowers blood pressure and eases blood flow, which can promote heart health.
  6. It lessens addiction cravings for inpatient groups.
  7. It redirects attention and focus, which can reduce stress.

When a client has trouble otherwise expressing their feelings, playlist therapy can encourage the bond between therapist and client, promote positive behavioral and emotional change, foster feelings in the client that they have control of their environment, manage conflict and resolution, and strengthen peer relationships in group therapy. Giving someone without much control of their health some control through a playlist may benefit their psychological wellbeing.

In hospitals, playlist therapy has been found to reduce pain, so these patients need fewer strong painkilling drugs and require less anesthesia. It also reduces apprehension about treatment, improves mood, decreases muscle tension, and promotes relaxation.

Music Also Benefits Clinicians

While music provides important benefits for patients and clients, offering background music in a clinical setting can also help clinicians. Relaxed patients are easier to work with, making diagnosis and treatment less stressful. Clinicians with improved moods and greater focus are also better able to treat their patients.

Music was found to enhance the speed and efficiency of staff performing surgeries, which means that patients heal faster. In a study, nursing staff reported that targeted music choices helped them focus, relax, and feel rejuvenated, so they could effectively complete their shifts.

Choosing Music for a Clinical Setting

Choosing music for waiting rooms, offices, hospitals, and other clinical and healthcare settings can greatly improve everyone’s stress levels and mood, making health care easier and much more effective. When choosing music for a professional setting, it is important to choose songs that have been licensed legally through copyright protection. This may mean choosing a commercial music streaming service that can help you manage both legal licenses and playlist options.


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