Music therapy and chronic mental illness: Overcoming the silent symptoms

Many adults suffer silently with chronic mental illness. In fact, according to The National  Institutes of Mental Health about 4.1% of the population suffer from serious, ongoing mental illness. Unfortunately the current health system focuses on stabilization of the most acute symptoms. However, in order to return to a functional daily life much more treatment is needed.  Music therapy, along with counseling, medication, and other treatments, can help ease symptoms of mental illness and assist in integrating these individuals into the community.

Music therapy can provide an opportunity to relate to others for those with mental illness who may feel isolated or stigmatized by their diagnosis or symptoms. Engaging in music can be a safe and validating experience that provides an opportunity for meaningful human interaction without judgement. Music therapy interventions often focus on a person’s strengths and incorporates them into the music making.

Because of confidentiality laws, some people may have never seen a music therapy session and it is hard to envision what a music therapy session looks like. However, in this article the researcher tells stories of people suffering from chronic mental illness and how music therapy helped them achieve their goals. The first story described two mental health patients who struggled to connect with others. Initially they interacted only through the music therapist, but one day, when improvising on mallet instruments, they began to communicate with each other musically through free improvisation which led to a supportive friendship.

A second story describes an individual working one-on-one with the therapist who was very reserved at first and began expressing her overwhelming sense of “doom and gloom.” However, as sessions progressed she began to express herself more openly and spontaneously improvised a song where she declared that she can overcome her mental illness. The client was taken aback and immediately became more open musically with the therapist and was able to use the music to express herself and begin to cope with her diagnosis.

These stories give two examples of how music therapy can be an asset for individuals dealing with a chronic mental health diagnosis. Music therapy can be implemented during inpatient, outpatient, or community mental health settings. For more information on how to access local music therapy services please visit or contact us at

Jessica Fletcher

Jessica S. Fletcher, MM, MT-BC

Jackson, N. (2015). Music therapy and chronic mental illness: Overcoming the silent symptoms. Music Therapy Perspectives, 33(2), 90-96.