, Volume 235, Issue 2, pp 505–519 | Cite as

The hidden therapist: evidence for a central role of music in psychedelic therapy

  • Mendel Kaelen
  • Bruna Giribaldi
  • Jordan Raine
  • Lisa Evans
  • Christopher Timmerman
  • Natalie Rodriguez
  • Leor Roseman
  • Amanda Feilding
  • David Nutt
  • Robin Carhart-Harris
Original Investigation



Recent studies have supported the safety and efficacy of psychedelic therapy for mood disorders and addiction. Music is considered an important component in the treatment model, but little empirical research has been done to examine the magnitude and nature of its therapeutic role.


The present study assessed the influence of music on the acute experience and clinical outcomes of psychedelic therapy.


Semi-structured interviews inquired about the different ways in which music influenced the experience of 19 patients undergoing psychedelic therapy with psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was applied to the interview data to identify salient themes. In addition, ratings were given for each patient for the extent to which they expressed “liking,” “resonance” (the music being experienced as “harmonious” with the emotional state of the listener), and “openness” (acceptance of the music-evoked experience).


Analyses of the interviews revealed that the music had both “welcome” and “unwelcome” influences on patients’ subjective experiences. Welcome influences included the evocation of personally meaningful and therapeutically useful emotion and mental imagery, a sense of guidance, openness, and the promotion of calm and a sense of safety. Conversely, unwelcome influences included the evocation of unpleasant emotion and imagery, a sense of being misguided and resistance. Correlation analyses showed that patients’ experience of the music was associated with the occurrence of “mystical experiences” and “insightfulness.” Crucially, the nature of the music experience was significantly predictive of reductions in depression 1 week after psilocybin, whereas general drug intensity was not.


This study indicates that music plays a central therapeutic function in psychedelic therapy.


Psychedelic therapy Depression Psilocybin Music 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Amanda Feilding is the director of the Beckley Foundation, one of the sponsors of the study. David Nutt is an advisor for the Beckley Foundation.

Supplementary material

213_2017_4820_MOESM1_ESM.docx (73 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 72 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mendel Kaelen
    • 1
  • Bruna Giribaldi
    • 1
  • Jordan Raine
    • 2
  • Lisa Evans
    • 1
  • Christopher Timmerman
    • 1
    • 3
  • Natalie Rodriguez
    • 1
  • Leor Roseman
    • 1
    • 3
  • Amanda Feilding
    • 4
  • David Nutt
    • 1
  • Robin Carhart-Harris
    • 1
  1. 1.Psychedelic Research Group, Department of MedicineImperial College LondonLondonUK
  2. 2.School of PsychologySussex UniversityBrightonUK
  3. 3.Computational, Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory (C3NL), Department of MedicineImperial College LondonLondonUK
  4. 4.The Beckley FoundationOxfordUK

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