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Music therapy research and evidence-based practice

With the American Music Therapy Association’s Annual Conference this weekend, we asked Andrea Farbman, Executive Director of the American Music Therapy Association; Dr. Sheri Robb, editor of Journal of Music Therapy; and Dr. Anthony Meadows, editor of Music Therapy Perspectives, to tell us about the profession of music therapy in a three-part series.

By Dr. Sheri Robb


There is a saying in American English when a home is attractive to view from the sidewalk or edge of the road. That is, we say it has “curb appeal”. As an integral part of everyday life, music has great curb appeal. People value it and intuitively recognize the beneficial role music plays in daily life and well-being. But, when talking about music therapy, the conversation shifts beyond mere curb appeal — and becomes even more intriguing because the practice of music therapy requires the integration and application of theory, research, and clinical practice knowledge to meet the needs of the patients and families we serve.

As a profession dedicated to research and evidence-base practice, we continue to build foundational knowledge to advance the science and practice of music therapy. The elements of music — rhythm, timbre, melody, harmony, dynamics, and form — are the building blocks for music used in a therapeutic process. In the hands of trained, board-certified music therapists the building blocks of music are manipulated as part of specific interventions designed to address a variety of clinical needs and outcomes. The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) defines music therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional” (AMTA, 2013).

As a music therapist of 24 years, it has been an honor to work in a profession that values ethical standards of care within a defined scope of practice. Credentialed music therapists, including Board Certified Music Therapists, engage in lifelong learning through continuing education and participation in scholarship and research. I am also privileged to serve as Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Music Therapy (JMT), which is owned by the AMTA.

Journal of Music Therapy is a forum for authoritative articles of current music therapy research and theory. Our mission is to advance research, theory, and practice in music therapy through the dissemination of scholarly work. We publish all types of research and strives to present a variety of research approaches and topics, to promote critical inquiry, and to serve as a resource and forum for researchers, educators, and clinicians in music therapy and related professions. Ultimately, JMT contributes to evidence-based practice, which according to the American Music Therapy Association, “integrates the best available research, the music therapists’ expertise, and the needs, values, and preferences of the individual(s) served” (AMTA, 2013). 

I am proud to be a part of AMTA and the rich history of our journals, and I look forward to exciting opportunities that will come as a result of AMTA’s partnership with Oxford University Press.

Dr. Sheri RobbDr. Robb is Associate Professor, School of Nursing, Indiana University. She is Coordinator for the Undergraduate Honors Program and is core faculty for the university’s Research in Palliative and End-of-Life Communication and Training (RESPECT) Center. Dr. Robb is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Music Therapy and a Board Certified Music Therapist with degrees in music therapy and early childhood special education. In 2009, she completed a post-doctoral fellowship awarded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) in behavioral oncology and cancer control. In 2011, she was awarded a NIH career development award. Dr. Robb’s program of research focuses on the development and testing of music-based interventions to manage distress, improve positive health outcomes, and prevent secondary psychosocial morbidity in children/adolescents with cancer and their families.

A forum for authoritative articles of current music therapy research and theory, Journal of Music Therapy, seeks to advance research, theory, and practice in music therapy through the dissemination of scholarly work. The journal publishes all types of research, including quantitative, qualitative, historical, philosophical, theoretical, and musical concerning the psychology of music, applied music therapy techniques, perception of music, and effects of music on human behavior. Journal of Music Therapy is an official publication of the American Music Therapy Association.

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