Music Therapy for Children and Adolescents with Behavioural and Emotional Problems: A Randomised Controlled Trial


Mental health has become an increasingly bigger problem facing children and adolescents in society. Emotional, behavioral, social, and cognitive problems face these age groups today. Adolescents show a particular vulnerability with anxiety related disorders as they go through various changes in this age group. Popular treatment and approaches include medications and psychotherapy, with an increasingly popular and recognized intervention being music therapy. This research study aimed to explore the efficacy of music therapy in clinical practice for children and adolescents with mental health problems. 

Using a randomized control trial design, participants ages 8-16 and sets of parents from various mental health service care facilities were split into two groups. Group One received music therapy services plus their usual care, while Group Two received usual care only. A specific music therapy intervention used was improvisation, which encourages participants to create and express themselves freely. Improvisation allows for each participant to improve upon their communication skills, an area that can be difficult for those who suffer from mental health issues. All music therapy sessions for this study were 30 minutes in length and ran for 12 weeks. There was either a verbal or musical reflection to end each session, with a check-in at week 13. Each music therapy session was individualized and unique to each client as they were client led sessions. 

At the end of the study, evidence for the benefits of music therapy showed short term improvement in communication, self-esteem, and depression in participants 13 years of age and older. Specifically, depression scores were significantly lower at the 13 week check-in and self-esteem was significantly improved in the groups that received music therapy in addition to their usual care. We can certainly see glimmers of the benefits that music therapy can bring to this population. However, continued research is needed to further show the benefits of music therapy with this population in both long term and short term settings. 


By Josie McCutcheon, MT-BC


Porter, S., McConnell, T., McLaughlin, K., Lynn, F., Cardwell, C., Braiden, H. J., Boylan, J., Holmes, V., & Music in Mind Study Group (2017). Music therapy for children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems: a randomised controlled trial. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines, 58(5), 586–594.