Harvard Women's Health Watch

How music can help you heal

Music therapy can calm anxiety, ease pain, and provide a pleasant diversion during chemotherapy or a hospital stay.

It's almost impossible to find someone who doesn't feel a strong connection to music. Even if you can't carry a tune or play an instrument, you can probably reel off a list of songs that evoke happy memories and raise your spirits. Surgeons have long played their favorite music to relieve stress in the operating room, and extending music to patients has been linked to improved surgical outcomes. In the past few decades, music therapy has played an increasing role in all facets of healing.

What is music therapy?

Music therapy is a burgeoning field. People who become certified music therapists are usually accomplished musicians who have deep knowledge of how music can evoke emotional responses to relax or stimulate people or help them heal. They combine this knowledge with their familiarity with a wide variety of musical styles to find the specific kind that can get you through a challenging physical rehab session or guide you into meditation. And they can find that music in your favorite genre, be it electropop or grand opera.

Holly Chartrand, a music therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, first trained as a vocalist. She decided to become a music therapist when she realized that she could use music to support others just as it had supported her throughout her life. "The favorite part of my job is seeing how big an impact music can have on someone who isn't feeling well," she says.

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