Research project

Art is a doctor

Interdisciplinary research on choral singing among mentally ill and socially underprivileged children and adolescents.

Project team: Katarzyna Grebosz-Haring, Leonhard Thun-Hohenstein

In cooperation with the University Clinic for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Salzburg and the Paracelsus Medical Private University SALK/PMU, the University of Vienna (Faculty of Psychology, Department of Clinical Psychology of Adulthood, Music and Health Lab), the Salzburg schools and the Chorus Juventus of the Vienna Boys’ Choir.

The quote “Art is a doctor” from the Austrian artist Zenita Komad recalls the forgotten sense of medicine as a healing art and urges an overcoming of the separation between the spheres of culture and health established solely by administrative constraints, as well as a reevaluation of the deep interconnectedness between art and life sciences. Recent research supports the hypothesis that artistic activities can release adjuvant therapeutic potentials and positively influence healing processes over the short and long term.

Singing together in a choir group, for example, offers not only an everyday aesthetic outlet in a treatment facility for mentally ill children and adolescents, but also the opportunity to help patients achieve a greater sense of well-being and quality of life. The current high prevalence of emotional and behavioral disorders in childhood and adolescence on the one hand, and the complexity of mental disorders on the other, combined with the lack of bridging measures between hospitalization and the return to everyday life, lend particular emphasis to this demand for multimodal treatment concepts and adjuvant, effective and inexpensive therapy approaches with few side effects (Thun-Hohenstein and Schafellner 2013; Hudziak 2017).

In this context, musical activities such as making music, listening to music or singing and dancing are not only increasingly being used in clinical therapeutic contexts (Stegemann and Schmidt 2015), but are also becoming the focus of a growing international research debate (e.g., MacDonald, Kreutz, and Mitchell 2012; Bernatzky and Kreutz 2015; Christensen and Gomila 2018). In particular, choral singing appears to be associated with positive psychological and biological responses and may contribute to improved quality of life and well-being (e.g., Fancourt, et al. 2016; Grebosz-Haring and Thun-Hohenstein 2020; Grebosz-Haring and Thun-Hohenstein 2018; Kreutz 2014; Kreutz et al. 2004). Nevertheless, there is a lack of research on the similarities and differences in psychological and neurochemical responses to musical activities between the nonclinical and clinical populations of children and adolescents. With mentally ill children and adolescents, the methodological challenges are further intensified due to the pathologies and fluctuations in daily well-being, and scientific research requires particularly sensitive preparation.

The aim of the planned controlled study is now to investigate the longer-term (6 months) value of singing in groups of mentally ill and healthy children and adolescents between 10 and 18 years of age. The effects of singing on social competence, mental state and well-being as well as neurochemical reactions (cortisol, alpha-amylase and immunoglobulin A) will be investigated. This should result in essential starting points for the treatment and prevention of mental illnesses, while at the same time focusing on the arts as a central moment of human existence.

The study is designed as an interdisciplinary fundamental research project, which is being developed through the combination of artistic practice, scientific research and medicine within the framework of a clinical setting, and serves to support children and adolescents in difficult life situations in their personality development with the help of music and musical activity. Through the new intervention approaches and research methods, such an innovative research approach should succeed, which would significantly expand the spectrum of traditional, discipline-based medical research.

Project phases/parts:

  1. Choral workshops once a week over two years with children and adolescents (10–18 years; approx. 30 participants per group) admitted to the University Clinic for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Salzburg as well as children at the Salzburg schools and children in the Chorus Juventus of the Vienna Boys’ Choir.
  2. Simultaneous collection of social, psychological and neuroendocrine data.
  3. Final workshop and performance.
  4. Evaluation of the data, processing and publication of the research results.

Press releases:
sn_201201_claudia_spahn_Musikmedizinerin: Singen und Musizieren vermittelt Glücksgefühle |