Music therapy and depressive symptoms

Project leader
dr. Sonja Aalbers
2015 - present
Health and Welfare

In her PhD research, Dr Sonja Aalbers examined the effectiveness of music therapy and depression. She also developed and evaluated a preventive improvisational music therapy approach for young adults with depressive symptoms to reduce these depressive symptoms.

What is the motivation for the project?

Before the start of the PhD research, there was a lack of insight into the effectiveness of music therapy on depression and depressive symptoms. Also lacking was insight into experiences with and the effects of music therapy interventions which can be used preventively and are aimed at emotion regulation. Dr. Sonja Aalbers started her PhD research in 2015 and obtained her PhD on 1 October 2021 at the Open University in Heerlen.

What problem does the project solve?

With her research, Aalbers showed that music therapy is effective with depression as an additional treatment to reduce depressive symptoms and anxiety and to improve psychological, social and occupational functioning. A practical study showed that music therapy shows positive results for people with depression in a music therapy practice.

Project approach

The systemic n=1 method proved a useful method for monitoring the results of music therapy. On the basis of these results, a music therapy intervention was developed, called Emotionally Influenced Improvisational Music Therapy (EIMT). A manual described how a music therapist and a client during ten meetings make music on a cello, marimba or djembé and reflect on the experiences gained. During the improvisation, the music therapist applies the music therapy synchronisation technique. The aim of this approach is to improve emotion regulation and reduce depressive symptoms.

Main results

The results of the research form important input for arriving at conclusions and recommendations for care standards and the guideline for depressive disorders. The research has led to a new music therapy programme with an EIMT manual to inform music therapists how to apply EIMT. Also, a map was developed to illustrate how emotion regulation can be improved by means of music therapy.

The next steps are further implementation of EIMT within and outside the university and going through an accreditation trajectory for EIMT. Also, in cooperation with the Open University, existing research data will be analysed further. At the moment, cooperation partners are being sought who wish to implement EIMT and who wish to carry out research within their own organisation into the effectiveness and working principles of music therapy, including this approach.

Collaboration partners

  • Open University Heerlen
  • Professorship Small n-Designs
  • Vaktherapie Knowledge Centre (KenVak)
  • ArtEZ Institute of the Arts