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How Does Music Therapy Benefit Eating Disorders?

By Melanie Lustbader, LPC

When individuals thinks of music therapy, it is not often thought of with eating disorder treatment. Music therapy promotes self-determination and collaboration in clients who are experiencing mental health concerns by focusing on an individual’s strengths. Some people may experience decreased stress and lowered anxiety while listening to music, but that goes for playing instruments as well. When an individual plays or listens to music, it may boost self-confidence and self-esteem in playing an instrument or lifting up an individual’s overall mood. 

Music therapy can be facilitated individually or in a group setting. Group therapy is a fabulous way to incorporate individuals into speaking up about their struggles and also a place for them to feel less alone.  Music therapy may include, playing instruments, song writing, lyric analysis and relaxation listening. According to Psychology Today, “By establishing both vicarious feelings of social inclusion, as well as active bonding experiences through music making or community involvement”(Karth, 2021). A group can be beneficial, but individually listening to music with friends or family can be great as well. 

According to Melinda Karth, a Ph.D. candidate in the neuroscience area of psychology at Purdue, where she researches eating disorders, stated, “Despite the potential of music therapy for eating disorder treatment, it isn’t widely used.” (Karth, 2021). There are many benefits reported for example, body acceptance, increased awareness of bodily experiences, such as hunger cues, emotions, reduced anxiety, and increased emotion verbalization. Melinda Karth explains that, “Music therapy can improve emotion recognition, anxiety, self-identity formation, and social skills in people with eating disorders” (Karth, 2021). Music can have a beneficial effect on brain chemicals such as dopamine, which is linked to feelings of pleasure. Music can change an individual’s mood instantly, and positively impacting someone’s self-esteem. Music can help relax or energize the body, and even help individual’s manage pain.

An eating disorder can be defined as an individual’s preoccupation of eating, body image, and exercise that is affecting one’s daily life. Individuals who struggle with disordered eating and body image issues may not have an eating disorder but may still have low self-confidence and social anxiety. A common symptom of an individual, who struggles with body image issues and or disordered eating or an eating disorder, may include social anxiety and negative self-comparisons. Mental illness can burden the lives of men and women of all ages, understanding that an eating disorder is not chosen is key. Often people believe individuals just choose to stop eating, engage in behaviors or exercise excessively because they don’t like the way their body looks. I like to think of it as the battle between the rational and irrational mind. Deep down the individual may know what they’re doing is not “healthy”, but it is the irrational mind or the ID, that is in control and they believe this will relieve anxiety or sitting with uncomfortable feelings. 

Music therapy can also be practiced within your home. For example, making a playlist of songs that make you want to dance, move, or songs that make you happy, emotional or relaxed. Being involved in a music therapy group is beneficial if you can find one in your local area, but listening or making music at home can be therapeutic. 

If you have found yourself struggling with anxiety or stress around eating, exercise, and body image and would like to talk to a licensed therapist, we offer a range of counseling services to support you. Contact Symmetry Counseling online, or call us at (312)-578-9990 to arrange an appointment with a skilled and compassionate counselor today!

Karth, Melinda. “Using Music in Eating Disorders Treatment.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, July 2021, 

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