Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating mental health condition that is prevalent among combat Veterans. There are a number of treatment options for PTSD including psychotherapy, medication management, as well as alternative self-management approaches. Music therapy is one alternative self-management technique that showed positive results in a small pilot study supported by VA HSR&D funding.
The study took place from 2010 to 2011, and enrolled 40 Veterans with significant PTSD symptoms, half of whom were returning Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Investigators sought to assess the effectiveness of music therapy on relieving PTSD symptoms. The six-week intervention, which was conducted with assistance from the Guitars for Vets chapter at the Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI, consisted of Veterans receiving an hour of individual guitar training each week and a weekly group instruction session. Veterans also received a guitar, along with sheet music and other supplies that they were allowed to keep after the study concluded.
Results showed a positive benefit in relieving PTSD symptoms as a result of the intervention. In addition, findings suggest that the music therapy was effective in reducing depression symptoms and improving health-related quality of life. Investigators are developing a multi-center study to test if their findings are generalizable to a larger and more diverse group of Veterans. Also, in coordination with local Guitars for Vets chapters, the music therapy program has been successfully taken up by several VA sites, including the Hampton (Virginia) VA Medical Center, where it was recently the subject of an article in The Virginian-Pilot.