by Woods M

Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder that interferes with the way a person interprets reality. Sufferers may hear voices or see things that aren't there. They may also become paranoid. These symptoms make it difficult to have relationships and often result in social withdrawal. Since there is no cure for the disease, treatment focuses on using anti-psychotic medications to help control abnormal thinking. However, non-pharmaceutical therapies are being tried to further reduce symptoms.

Prior research on music therapy showed benefit on negative behaviors and mood, but could not determine whether there was a benefit on positive behaviors. Adjunct treatment is treatment that adds on to standard therapy, including medications. Researchers wanted to explore the role of music therapy in adjunct treatment in schizophrenia with a thorough meta-analysis. The study, published in BMC Psychiatry, found that adjunct music therapy may improve both positive and negative symptoms in patients with schizophrenia.

About the Study

The systematic review included 12 trials comparing standard care with adjunct music therapy vs. standard care without music therapy. The types of adjunct music therapies used varied. 10 of the trials were randomized while 2 were not. The review included 804 participants with differing levels of schizophrenia severity.

Participants who received adjunct music therapy had improvement in:

  • Negative symptoms
  • Mood symptoms
  • Positive symptoms

The benefits were consistent regardless of the music therapy session duration, frequency, total number of sessions, or total therapy duration.

How Does This Affect You?

A systematic review combines large numbers of smaller trials to create a large pool of participants. The larger the pool of participants the more reliable the outcomes are. However, the review is only as reliable as the studies that are included. In this case, the studies included were not all randomized controlled trials, making them more difficult to compare to one another and more likely to show positive benefits. Compared to past reviews, this review also contained additional, newer studies, which may have changed the overall results. Furthermore, researchers in the studies did not assess allocation concealment, so it is not known whether the person randomizing the participants knew what the treatment allocation would be. This would have allowed the person to influence which group the patient went into and compromise the outcome. The studies also differed in the type of music therapy intervention, thus limiting the analysis. More research would need to be done to determine which types of music therapies provide the best benefits.

Music therapy is used to address the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. In particular, it helps people who are unable to express themselves through words. It is a safe treatment that does not have negative side effects. If you or a loved one is suffering from schizophrenia, talk to a doctor about whether music therapy would be a helpful addition to an overall treatment plan. Your doctor may be able to provide a referral to a qualified music therapist.


American Psychiatric Association 

Mental Health America 


Nonpharmaceutical interventions for patients with severe mental illness. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated July 29, 2016. Accessed October 17, 2016.

Schizophrenia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated September 30, 2016. Accessed October 17, 2016.

Tseng PT, Chen YW, et al. Significant treatment effect of adjunct music therapy to standard treatment on the positive, negative, and mood symptoms of schizophrenic patients: a meta-analysis. BMC Psychiatry. 2016 Jan 26;16:16.

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