Using Music to Relieve Depression


musical note.pngCaught in a terrible conundrum of whether I should break my diet over New York Super Fudge Chunk or Chunky Monkey at Ben and Jerry’s yesterday, I was reading the different fliers pinned to the community bulletin board inside this 200 square feet of ice-cream heaven.


One flier read: “Got the blues? Learn to play them!”

I don’t know whether to blame the kids or my depression for my stupidity (the death of my brain cells in the prefrontal cortex), but I had to read these seven words four times (that’s 28 words) before I understood the message, which is an important one: Music can help treat depression.

Back before my Prozac and Zoloft days, music was my sole therapy. I pounded out Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude to C Sharp Minor” as a way of processing my parents’ hostile divorce. My hour or more a day at the upright piano in the family room of my childhood home became a sanctuary of sorts for me. I practiced scales, cadences, and arpeggios until they were perfect, because rhythm–that sweet pattern between sound and silence–was something that I could control with the tip of my fingers. Emotion was translated into melody as I played the ivory and ebony keys, sometimes closing my eyes.

During the worst months of my depression, I blared the sound track of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Pretending to be the phantom with a cape and a mask, I twirled around our living room, swinging David and Katherine in my arms. I belted out every word of “The Music of the Night,” which I had learned to play on the piano for my stepdad as his birthday present one year (It is one of his favorites, too).

“Softly, deftly, music shall caress you,
Feel it, hear it, secretly possess you . . .”

The gorgeous song–like all good music–could stroke that tender place within me that words couldn’t get to.

Everything with a beat moves my spirit. Even Yanni, with his long hair blowing in the wind (I saw a video once…and the image unfortunately stuck). But especially the classics. I can’t get enough of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, because I think so much better when these guys are playing in the background. (Consequently almost everything I publish has been written under their influence.)

And apparently I’m not alone. Because the website of the American Music Therapy Association lists 57 pages of research articles chronicling the successful use of music to help treat a host of different illnesses, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and chronic pain.

Originally published on Beyond Blue at

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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