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Effective musical interventions against stress

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With the known fact that listening to and making music can reduce stress, musical interventions are increasingly used in medical and mental health care. “In addition, the experience-oriented and action-oriented approach to musical interventions makes them particularly suitable for people with intellectual disabilities,” says De Witte.

In addition to analyzing their effects, she and her team conducted research on the exact use of different types of musical interventions and what aspects of these interventions are important in dealing with stress complaints. “In practice, we find that two types of musical interventions are particularly used: 1)“ musical medicine ”interventions, in which the goal is to relax while listening to specific relaxing music, and 2) music therapy interventions, which are used to treat stress and tension. These are targeted and methodical interventions, delivered by a trained music therapist, that involve listening to music and making music together, such as writing songs, singing together, or improvising music. ‘

High level evidence that musical interventions can be effective

In a first study, De Witte and his colleagues analyzed more than 100 studies with a total of almost 10,000 participants, of which 4,838 participated in a musical intervention group (musical activities or music therapy). Interventions took place in clinical, medical, and work or study settings. The remaining 4,779 participants formed the control group. This first study showed that musical interventions have positive effects of small to medium magnitude both on physiological arousal related to stress (increased blood pressure, heart rate, hormone levels) and on experiences of stress (anxiety, agitation or nervousness).

  • Music appears to be able to reduce physiological effects associated with stress, such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate.
  • Music has positive effects on subjective experiences of stress, such as feeling unable to cope, worry and nervousness.

“This study provides high-quality evidence that musical interventions can be effective in reducing stress and thus justifies the increasing use of musical interventions in medical practice and mental health,” says De Witte.

Music therapy appears to be particularly effective in reducing stress

In a second study, De Witte and colleagues performed a systematic review of studies on the stress-reducing effects of music therapy interventions in particular. The result was an overview of 47 studies in total, with a control group of 2,747 subjects.

The researchers concluded that music therapy has a medium to strong effect on stress-related outcomes. “We have found that music therapy in particular is effective in reducing stress. This may be due to the personalized and tailor-made approach of the music therapist, who is specifically trained to tailor music to the needs of the patient, ”concludes De Witte. According to De Witte, these results justify the increasing use of music therapy by a music therapist qualified in both mental health and medical practice. Considering the added value of trained music therapists, De Witte recommends carefully considering whether music therapy is necessary or whether music listening interventions, as already offered by many healthcare providers, are sufficient.

“Overall, we can conclude that musical interventions, in the form of music listening and music therapy, delivered by specially trained and trained therapists, can be of great benefit to patients in medical and mental health settings.” , concludes De Witte.

In addition to these two studies, De Witte also examined the practical knowledge of music therapists on stress reduction in people with intellectual disabilities, the validity and reliability of self-reported stress measurement instruments and their relevance for people with disabilities. mild intellectual disability, and the development of a music therapy micro-intervention for stress reduction.

Doctoral research details

Martina de Witte, ‘Music Interventions for Stress Reduction’, supervisors: Prof. GJJM Stams and Prof. XMH Moonen, co-director: Prof. SAH van Hooren

Time and place

Friday October 29, 11:00 a.m. Aula (Lutheran Church), Amsterdam.


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