10 ways music therapy can support eating disorder recovery

Have you ever been moved by a melody or found comfort in a song on a tough day? Music, with its profound impact on our emotions and psyche, has this incredible power to resonate with our emotions, sometimes providing solace in ways words can't. This is the foundation of music therapy – using this beautiful medium to facilitate healing and support.


And for those grappling with eating disorders, music therapy offers both a creative outlet and a therapeutic touch. This article aims to shed light on the various ways music therapy can be beneficial.

Let's explore 10 tangible examples of how music therapy can play a vital role in the journey towards recovery.

1. Unlocking emotional healing

Music therapy isn't just about listening to your favourite tunes; it's a recognised form of therapy rooted in evidence-based practices. The American Music Therapy Association defines it as "the clinical use of music interventions to accomplish individualised goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional".

Whether you're composing a melody or immersed in harmonies, music serves as a conduit to address emotional, cognitive, and social needs. Think of it like this: if our emotions were a locked treasure chest, music could be the key.

As leading neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Levitin emphasised in his study, the brain processes music in regions associated with emotions, memory, and patterns. So, just as you'd turn to a trusted friend during hard times, music offers a reliable shoulder, providing solace and a pathway to healing.

2. Tapping into emotions without words

Words sometimes fall short, especially when feelings are deep-seated and multifaceted. This is particularly true for individuals battling eating disorders. Music, as Dr. Suzanne Hanser mentions in her seminal work, provides a bridge, helping to navigate the intricate maze of emotions. By diving into melodies, rhythms, and harmonies, individuals can express, confront, and understand feelings that might otherwise remain buried. In essence, music becomes a voice for the voiceless, offering a liberating, therapeutic embrace without the constraint of language.

3. Creating a safe environment

In the journey of healing, safety is paramount. Music therapy cultivates a sanctuary where turbulent emotions find calm shores. Within this therapeutic cocoon, notes and rhythms become allies, aiding individuals to face challenging memories head-on. Dr. Barbara Wheeler, in her extensive research, underscores how trained music therapists act as navigators, steering the course of therapy towards understanding and healing, making each musical session a harbor of hope and resilience.

4. Rediscovering self-worth

Crafting music or simply enjoying it can boost self-esteem. By mastering a new instrument or vocal technique, individuals are reminded of their worth and capabilities beyond their eating disorder. Music isn't just sound; it's a mirror reflecting our inner strength. As individuals engage with music, be it strumming a chord or embracing a tune, they unearth facets of their potential. Amidst the cacophony of an eating disorder, music stands as a reminder: there's a symphony of value within every soul.

5. Strengthening mind-body connection

There's a transformative power in the intertwining of music and movement. As notes flow, carrying with them waves of emotion and history, they beckon our bodies to respond in kind. The gentle sway of the hips, the tapping of a foot, or the fluid dance steps taken on a floor – all are reactions to this enchanting call.

The profound link between rhythm and our physical being isn't just anecdotal; it's rooted in scientific understanding. Dr. Joke Bradt's ground-breaking studies provide evidence for music's unique capability to enhance body awareness and reconnect individuals with their physical selves. When one moves in sync with a melody, it becomes more than just a dance, it's a holistic experience, an act of rediscovery and affirmation.

6. Encouraging mindfulness and present iving

Music has the power to anchor us in the present moment. With its ebb and flow, music acts as a gentle reminder of life's transient moments. Each note resonates deeply, compelling listeners to be entirely immersed in its embrace. This is not merely an emotional response, but a practice of mindfulness. As individuals allow themselves to be enveloped by the melodies, they harness the ability to be present, attentive, and fully engaged with their surroundings. This musical mindfulness serves as a valuable tool in the journey of recovery, teaching individuals to experience life one beat at a time.

7. Group music therapy: Building connections

In the symphony of recovery, every individual plays a unique, invaluable part. Group music therapy is not merely about creating harmonies but forging bonds. It offers a sanctuary, a haven where souls touched by the struggles of eating disorders can find solace in the shared rhythm of healing. Within this melodic embrace, isolation dissipates, replaced by the power of unity and mutual understanding. Together, they dance to the tunes of resilience and hope, reminding one another that they're not alone on this transformative journey.

8. Setting recovery to a tune: A guided approach

Music serves as a powerful motivator in the journey of recovery. By linking specific songs with positive steps towards healing, individuals can use music as a constant reminder of their progress and aspirations. Let's explore four examples of how you can integrate music harmoniously into your recovery journey.

  • Choose your anthem:
    • Select a song that resonates with your journey and uplifts your spirits.
    • Let it be your personal reminder of strength and progress.
  • Musical milestones:
    • Dedicate songs to pivotal moments or achievements in your recovery.
    • Use music as an auditory journal, mapping your highs and victories.
  • Daily musical motivation:
    • Start each day with an inspiring song to set a positive tone.
    • Use this melody as a daily anchor, grounding you in your mission.
  • Share and support:
    • Discuss your recovery playlist with friends or support groups.
    • Transform your songs into communal anthems, sharing goals and successes.

These steps help individuals associate music with positive recovery milestones and provide a musical reminder of their progress and goals.

9. Boosting mood and reducing anxiety

The transformative power of music reverberates beyond mere entertainment. Within its melodies and rhythms, it offers a refuge, especially for those confronting the anxieties intertwined with eating disorders.

Engaging in therapeutic music sessions, one can experience a palpable relief, as the notes provide an anchor, stabilising turbulent emotions. This immersion into music can serve as a therapeutic tool, gently navigating the psyche towards a serene space, and fostering emotional resilience and a more balanced mental state.

10. Personalised recovery journeys

Every person's relationship with music is unique, and music offers diverse avenues for healing, tailored to one's unique preferences and needs. In therapeutic settings, it empowers individuals to take charge, giving them agency over their own path to recovery. Whether it's channelling emotions into a self-composed song, feeling the accomplishment of mastering an instrument, or finding solace in a familiar tune, music presents endless opportunities. It not only acts as a healing agent but also a personal canvas on which individuals can paint their own stories of resilience and growth.

If you or a loved one is navigating this challenging journey, consider the harmonious embrace of music therapy as a potential ally. If you're considering music therapy or want more information, always consult with a professional or trusted source.

Music therapy uses the profound emotional power of music as a medium to foster healing and recovery, especially for those battling eating disorders. It's essential to understand that this therapy isn't about just listening to songs; it's a specialised practice, crafted and tailored to individual needs, using music as an intricate tool for healing.

For anyone considering this path or seeking deeper insights into its potential benefits, it's crucial to reach out to a qualified music therapist. In the harmonious journey of recovery, each step is vital, every note is significant, and professional guidance ensures that the melody of healing is both beautiful and effective.


  • Levitin, D. J. (2007). This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession.
  • Hanser, S. B. (2016). The New Music Therapist's Handbook.
  • Goodman, K. D. (2011). Music Therapy Education and Training: From Theory to Practice.
  • Wheeler, B. L. (Ed.). (2015). Music Therapy Handbook.
  • Thoma, M. V., La Marca, R., Brönnimann, R., Finkel, L., Ehlert, U., & Nater, U. M. (2013). The effect of music on the human stress response.
  • Bradt, J. (2012). The effects of music entrainment on postoperative pain perception in pediatric patients.
  • Quiroga Murcia, C., Kreutz, G., Clift, S., & Bongard, S. (2010). Shall we dance? An exploration of the perceived benefits of dancing on well-being.
  • Chan, A. S., Ho, Y. C., & Cheung, M. C. (1998). Music training improves verbal memory.
  • Gold, C., Solli, H. P., Krüger, V., & Lie, S. A. (2009). Dose–response relationship in music therapy for people with serious mental disorders: Systematic review and meta-analysis.
  • Unkefer, R. F., & Thaut, M. H. (2014). Group Music Interventions for Depression: A Systematic Review.
  • DeNora, T. (2000). Music in Everyday Life.
  • Baker, F., & Tamplin, J. (2006). Music therapy methods in neurorehabilitation: A clinician's manual
  • Silverman, M. J. (2011). Effects of music therapy on psychiatric patients' proactive coping, anxiety, and global functioning: A randomized clinical trial.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bristol, Somerset, BS2 8NY
Written by Stephen Gallini, Counsellor,Music Therapist, MSc, HCPC registered
Bristol, Somerset, BS2 8NY

I am an integrative counsellor practising in Bristol city centre, an HCPC registered music therapist and a certified neurological music therapist (NMT), with BSc in Psychology, MSc in Psychology of Pathological addictions, and further training, amongst others, in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Mindf...

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