Effect of Music Therapy on the Anxiety Levels and Sleep Patterns of Abused Women in Shelters

By Hernández-Ruiz, Eugenia | Journal of Music Therapy, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Effect of Music Therapy on the Anxiety Levels and Sleep Patterns of Abused Women in Shelters


Hernández-Ruiz, Eugenia, Journal of Music Therapy


The purpose of this study was to explore the effect of a music therapy procedure (music listening paired with progressive muscle relaxation) on the reduction of anxiety and improvement of sleep patterns in abused women in shelters. Twenty-eight women residing in 2 domestic violence shelters in a Midwestern city met with the researcher on 5 consecutive days for half-hour sessions. A pretest-posttest design with control and experimental groups was used. The dependent variables included: stait anxiety measured by the STAI (Spielberger et al., 1983) before and after each music stimulus, sleep quality as measured by the PSQI (Buysse et al., 1989) on the first and last sessions, and levels of fatigue as measured by the Fatigue Scale (Lee, 1992) at waking time. The independent variable was a 20-minute recording of participant-selected music with a Progressive Muscle Relaxation script. Results indicated that music therapy constituted an effective method for reducing anxiety levels. Results also indicated a significant effect on sleep quality for the experimental group, but not for the control group. No significant relationships were found between anxiety levels and sleep quality, nor fatigue levels and sleep quality. These results seem promising in the light of domestic violence research, which has found that a greater amount of personal resources is a crucial aspect of abused women's recovery process. Reduction of anxiety and improvement of sleep quality can be considered as increased personal resources, and seem feasible through the use of music therapy.

Domestic violence affects 22.1% of women in the United States during their lifetimes (National Violence against Women Survey, U.S. Dept. of Justice, 200Oa). The most recent surveys indicate that 64% of the violence against women is perpetrated by an intimate partner (U.S. Department of Justice, 200Ob). Moreover, women are twice as likely as men to be injured during such assaults (41.5% injured women, compared to 19.9% men). Many different organizations have been created to address this problem, shelters being the most common of them (Chalk & King, 1998). Shelters provide a period of safe housing and support services for women and children, all which are crucial for violence-free, independent living (Johnson, Crowley, & Sigler, 1992.)

However, the time in a shelter is not an easy one for a battered woman. Most sheltered women have overwhelming challenges such as having a lower socioeconomic status (Browne & Bassuk, 1997; Campbell, Sullivan, & Davidson II, 1995; Chalk & King, 1998; Sutherland, Bybee, & Sullivan, 2002), filing for legal action, finding ajob and a place to live, dealing with injuries, illness and confusing feelings (Stephens & McDonald, 2000), which puts them at higher risk of returning to an abusive relationship. Furthermore, many have one or two children under their care, for whom they have to provide safety, financial protection, and emotional support. They have three- to four-times the risk, if found, of being assaulted by their partner (U.S. Dept. of Justice, 200Ob). Yet, in this time of turmoil, they are asked to make the most rational, life-changing decisions they have probably ever made.

A puzzling aspect for women's advocates and researchers of domestic violence is the fact that many of the abused women will stay with their abuser or return to him, even after residing in a shelter (Hubert & Hubert, 1984; Johnson, Crowley, & Sigler, 1992; Martin et al., 2000; Reidy & Von Korff, 1991; Snyder & Scheer, 1981; Strube & Barbour, 1983). Several authors (Berck, Newton, & Berck, 1986; Choice & Lamke, 1997; Martin et al., 2000) found that economic dependence, perceived absence of social support, commitment to the relationship and lack of power were related to a woman's decision to stay. On the other hand, factors supporting the decision to leave the batterer included: the woman being older, higher frequency of abuse, the presence of the women's income, and a longer shelter stay (Hubert & Hubert, 1984). …

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