Music therapy uses music to improve physical, emotional, and social well-being. Studies suggest it may help treat some mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. However, little research is available on music therapy and bipolar disorder.

Music can elicit strong feelings. One brain imaging study found it activates parts of the brain that play a crucial role in emotional and social bonds.

Some research suggests that singing or listening to relaxing music may increase oxytocin, a chemical messenger molecule that helps promote trust, relaxation, and psychological stability.

Below, learn about types of music therapy, its effects on bipolar disorder (BP) and other mental health conditions, and ways to access it.

Studies have found that music therapy may help improve mood and relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Music therapists may provide one-on-one or group music therapy sessions.

During sessions, participants may:

  • listen to music to relax or reflect on how it affects them
  • sing or play musical instruments to have fun, express themselves, or build a sense of community with other participants
  • write songs or lyrics to express their mood, explore their thoughts or feelings, or describe some of their experiences

Music therapists may use one or more of these techniques depending on a person’s condition and needs.

They may also give a person prerecorded music to listen to at home or ask them to attend live music performances.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimate that 7 million adults in the United States have BD. This condition causes alternating periods of intense emotional highs and lows.

Little research is available on how music therapy affects people with BD.

A small 2016 study found that people with BD felt more tense or agitated than people without BD after listening to joyful music. This might reflect the challenges that people with BD face in regulating emotions.

The study authors suggest that music therapy might help people with BD explore and understand their emotions. However, more research is necessary in this area.

Another small 2016 study examined music therapy in people with psychiatric disorders, including BD. The participants who attended group music therapy were able to reduce their daily doses of antipsychotic medication. However, doses of antidepressants and mood stabilizers did not change.

Music therapy may help treat other mental health conditions, including:

  • Substance use disorder: Research indicates that music therapy may help improve mood, sense of purpose, and motivation to change in people with substance use disorder.
  • Anxiety: A 2015 pilot study found that music therapy helped relieve symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder.
  • Depression: A 2020 analysis of more than 50 studies links music therapy to reduced symptoms of depression. Music therapy that lasted 1–12 weeks appeared to be more effective than longer courses.
  • Schizophrenia: A 2020 review of 18 studies found that music therapy helped reduce symptoms and improve quality of life in people with schizophrenia.

A person may ask their doctor or mental health specialist for a referral to a music therapist.

People may also look for a qualified music therapist using the American Music Therapy Association online directory.

Music therapy may help promote physical, emotional, and social well-being.

Studies suggest it may be helpful in treating certain mental health conditions, including substance use disorder, anxiety, and depression.

More research on music therapy and BD is needed. People with BD can seek guidance from a healthcare professional to determine whether music therapy may benefit them.