The right music for your therapy office waiting room

Jeff Guenther, LPC on Apr 04, 2017

It's widely acknowledged that music and emotion are intimately tied. Composers and artists pour their soul into their pieces, which in turn, evoke emotion in most of us. Does the kind of music matter? Is there a certain genre that helps everyone feel calmer, or is it based entirely on individual tastes? 

Music as a mood influencer

We wanted to bring the right music into our waiting rooms. Many of us use music to self-modulate our mood. Some listen to upbeat music to cheer up, some listen to music they know will enhance their misery, and still others listen to music that matches their mood in an attempt to feel understood. 

The next step was to determine whether there's a pattern in the types of music that resonates with the majority of us. 

Classical, pop, and metal

In a study of music genres and mood, it was found that heavy metal music (e.g. Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death) increased feelings of tension and nervousness. Those exposed to this music reported feeling jittery, insecure, unsatisfied, uncomfortable, discontent, unsteady, and unpleasant. A whole laundry list of exactly what we don't want to see in our therapy offices! 

Moving on. 

Pop (e.g. Plain White T's) fared better amongst study participants. Not only were worry and tension decreased, but there was also a marked increase in feelings of ease. Makes sense - it's hard to be worried with the likes of "Walking on Sunshine" in your musical line-up.

The best performing of the group was classical music (Mozart). 10 minutes of exposure to a violin concerto in a major key resulted in increased feelings of calmness and relaxation, while worry and confusion melted away. 

Music or quiet time?

As opposed to silence, music intuitively seems to make things feel more comfortable and less sterile. This hunch was supported in a study of waiting room frustrations.

Those participants that experienced an additional, unexpected delay (e.g. no front desk to seat them) as well as those with simply long wait times were both more forgiving of waiting room experiences that had music playing. The music used in this waiting room study was also on classical music, in the major key, and at 90 - 120 beats per minute; a moderately upbeat, positive piece. 

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Fans and genre likeability 

In the studies thus far, while being a fan of the music being played helped, even those that weren't classical or pop music connoisseurs enjoyed the positive benefits of listening to these genres. And, those that considered themselves metal fans experienced the same negative affect (increased worry, etc.) as those that didn't like that kind of music. Being a self-proclaimed metalhead appears to provide no protective effect when it comes to the negative emotions and anxiety the music evokes. 

All in all, we'd encourage trying out some upbeat classical music in your waiting room. It could prepare your clients for an open, productive session.


M.A. Cameron, J. Baker, M. Peterson, K. Braunsberger, The effects of music, wait-length evaluation, and mood on a low-cost wait experience, Journal of Business Research, 56, 421-430 (2003). 

C. Rea, P. MacDonald, G. Carnes, Listening to classical, pop, and metal music: An investigation of mood, Emporia State Research Studies, 46, 1-3 (2010). 

Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.

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