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Music Therapy Research 2025 Summary

October 8, 2015 12:33 PM

Improving Access and Quality: Music Therapy Research 2025 Executive Summary and Conclusions

The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) convened an historic and innovative research symposium, “Improving Access and Quality: Music Therapy Research 2025” (MTR2025), July 16-18, 2015. This visionary symposium was designed to recommend guidance for future research in music therapy and was made possible by a generous donation from David’s Fund and Tom and Lucy Ott. MTR2025 is tied to AMTA’s long-standing Strategic Priority on Research. The symposium represents an important event and is part of a larger and ongoing initiative to grow access to and quality of research in music therapy.

MTR2025 was structured to foster dialogue and to embrace diversity in thinking, approaches to practice, and methodologies. See Appendix A for the Symposium Agenda. AMTA was proud to sponsor this unique opportunity to bring the myriad members of the music therapy community together to collaboratively explore our research future. At the opening keynote panel, the Editors of AMTA’s peer-reviewed journals, Drs. Meadows and Robb aptly noted:

When viewed as a whole, music therapy research has moved through several important stages of development, characterized by differentiation and integration of philosophies and perspectives that parallel changes occurring in the broader national health research community, including an emphasis on diverse methodologies.  Central to advancing the science and practice of music therapy is finding ways to develop and integrate this knowledge across these research cultures, while meeting both internal and external demands for research that demonstrates improvements in quality and access to care.

The Keynote topics and speakers included:

  • “Importance of Research for Improving Access and Quality,” Pamela Hinds, RN, PhD, FAAN, Associate Center Director, Center for Translational Science, Children’s Research Institute; Director, Nursing Research and Quality Outcomes, Children’s National™
  • “Cultures of Inquiry in Music Therapy and Research and the Changing Landscape of Knowledge Generation and Implementation,” Sheri Robb, PhD, MT-BC and Tony Meadows, PhD, MT-BC.

The Symposium agenda benefitted from input garnered through a broad and diverse group of dedicated and enthusiastic individuals including clinicians, educators, students, and researchers. Four panel presentations helped set the tone and provided background context for the participant and small group discussions, and working groups.

  • Panel One. Music Therapy Research Needs: In advance of the symposium informal surveys/interviews were conducted with clinicians and educators. A summary of findings was followed by exploration of how the research process grows and evolves in music therapy practice. Panelists highlighted the important questions, potential impact, and interplay of theories, methods, and approaches.
  • Panel Two. Policy Imperatives: This panel discussed the impact of research on Music Therapy recognition, access, and funding. AMTA’s government relations perspective was represented regarding future music therapy research as it informs policy imperatives. The presentation summarized input from a variety of colleagues outside of music therapy regarding the role and use of research in policy-making and advocacy at the federal, state, and local levels.
  • Panel Three. Considerations for Future Research in Selected Clinical Topics: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias, and Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) were selected to highlight opportunities for future research. These topics involve large segments of practicing music therapists and have been identified by policy-makers and funders as areas where research findings impact policy and funding. Each topic leader outlined considerations for future research in music therapy, drawing from the literature and knowledge of trends in current music therapy practice. Respondents added commentary and supplemental remarks.
  • Panel Four. Research Capacity Building: Infrastructure, Education, and Training: Panelists offered conceptual ideas and factors for consideration regarding research capacity building for two major topics: a) research infrastructure and b) music therapy education and training. In addition to the perspectives of educators, the perspectives of clinicians and intern supervisors were presented because of their importance to the dialogue and to the unique set of challenges and needs of practicing clinician-scholars.

Recommendations by Topic

Six breakout groups convened in which participants discussed topics related to Panels Two, Three, and Four, responded to a set of questions, and generated 42 recommendations.

Policy Imperatives [11 recommendations]
  1. Define and describe the intervention using accepted standards of specification in published research and as part of research planning. When planning a research study, the music therapy intervention needs to be identified and specified by intervention and not just by the term “music therapy.”
  2. Conduct music therapy studies that focus on specific interventions for specific diagnoses/conditions. Numerous past published studies have commingled populations and conditions, especially in group music therapy settings. In order to prepare to ask for Medicare coverage of specific interventions/procedures, future research needs to examine (isolate) the research for one particular intervention for one particular diagnosis.
  3. List the ICD-10 diagnosis of the research participants to help link the benefit of a particular intervention to a particular diagnosis.
  4. Present a research briefing on Capitol Hill and include a famous spokesperson to headline to attract key legislators and staff to attend.
  5. Partner with the health sciences field to conduct research, encourage team science, and secure lines of funding.
  6. Recommend the creation and addition of a policy section to Music Therapy Perspectives.
  7. Commission white papers on all populations for which there is a substantial body of research evidence. White papers could be written by population work groups with teams of clinicians and researchers.
  8. Recommend research prioritizing the following clinical areas: Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dementia, TBI and ABI
  9. Create a research document for each population for the purpose of advocacy. This is envisioned as a fairly simple document that is specifically geared toward legislators and policy makers.
  10. Partner with researchers and/or economists qualified to support cost effectiveness and economic studies. For example, analyses recommended include the following areas: 
    1. A study in dementia to examine the potential effect (reduction/change) on use of psychotropic drugs associated with the use of music therapy interventions. 
    2. A study exploring the potential impact (reduction/change) in institutionalization (e.g., admissions, readmissions, and LOS) related to MT-BCs training caregivers in music-based techniques. 
  11. Approach private insurers for coverage of NICU interventions.
Clinical Population—Autism Spectrum Disorder [9 recommendations]
  1. Focus research in music therapy and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) on the following target domains/areas: Motor/sensory, Cognition, Mental health, Comorbidity, Pain perception, Musical development
  2. Define and provide detail on clinical decision making and service elements in current music therapy practice with persons with ASD. This definition includes research addressing the following questions:
    1. What is the role of music in the intervention?
    2. What is the role of the clinician?
    3. How do music therapists (MTs) set goals?
    4. How do MTs determine the rate, frequency, dose, and length of treatment?
  3. Define and incorporate consumer experiences and needs in music therapy services with persons with ASD. This recommendation includes research addressing the following questions:
    1. What brings consumers to music therapy (MT)?
    2. What are the consumers’ desired outcomes?
    3. What does MT mean for consumers?
  4. Conduct comparison studies in music therapy and ASD. This recommendation includes consideration of comparison research studies between outcome domains (inter-domain), among approaches (within MT practice), cost-effectiveness analyses, and between disciplines (outside MT profession). 
  5. Incorporate family/peer-supported services in MT with persons with ASD. This recommendation includes research regarding the role and impact of MT services mediated by parents, peers, or siblings.
  6. Conduct research regarding MT services across the lifespan among persons with ASD. This recommendation includes research in the following areas: Effectiveness of MT for adults, Community music-making, Accommodations for success in the community.
  7. Ensure research includes cultural considerations including investigation of MT as vehicle for social change, acknowledging the culture of clients, and neurodiversity.
  8. Move toward standardization of music therapy assessments in MT practice with persons with ASD.
  9. Focus research on the following settings: Medical, School, Home, Clinic, Community
Clinical Population—Alzheimer’s & Dementias/Older Adults & Aging* [5 recommendations]
  1. Expand research applications with new publications.
  2. Create partnerships and collaborations with Centers on Aging, community agencies, researchers, etc., in order to improve quality of research, evaluation, training, access, etc.
  3. Improve research methodology to design decision tree analysis for MT interventions and include data that would contribute to cost effectiveness studies in research, when possible.
  4. Disseminate research to improve clinician access to MT and research on related disciplines to a) ensure high quality clinical care and b) establish AMTA as the centralized source of information on state-of-the-art music therapy for persons who are aging.
  5. Increase visibility of music therapy research nationally and internationally in established advocacy and policymaking bodies (e.g., Alzheimer’s Association NAPA, AARP, Trial Match).

*This workgroup recommended that the scope of the workgroup topic should expand to include older adults and aging populations in addition to persons with Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

Clinical Population—Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) & Comorbidities [6 recommendations]
  1. Identify and disseminate evidence that MT is effective in treating ABI and co-morbidities.
  2. Demonstrate the relative cost-effectiveness of MT interventions in this clinical population.
  3. Utilize expert clinical opinion as a form of evidence and to help drive research agendas.
  4. Include the voices of patients with ABI in MT research (service-user led research).
  5. Generate clinical data sets that can be shared to support lines of MT research in this clinical topic.
  6. Incorporate research frameworks to develop lines of research that speak to colleagues in other disciplines.
Building Research Capacity: Research Infrastructure [5 recommendations]
  1. Create a portrait of the current music therapy research infrastructure with case studies of best practices, including examples from universities, clinical research faculty positions, and research fellowships.
  2. Increase meaningful engagement of clinicians in research, including as Principal Investigators.
  3. Increase research-active scholars among persons with doctoral level training to support their regular and active involvement in research programs and to support development of lines of research.
  4. Increase postdoctoral opportunities through raising awareness of research career paths and through PhD faculty mentors.
  5. Include the voice of the consumers (as partners and collaborators) in music therapy research.
Building Research Capacity: Research Infrastructure – Education, Continuing Education, and Training [6 recommendations]
  1. Explore best practices in the education of evidence-based and evidence-informed MT practice.
  2. Expand methodologies to include clients’ and clinicians’ voices in the MT body of research.
  3. Develop opportunities for post-doctoral training and education in MT practice and research scholarship.
  4. Develop and conduct focus groups to identify continuing education needs unique to each of the following roles: educators, clinicians, internship directors, and researchers (online, regional, state, national).
  5. Explore ways to make research relevant to clinical practice, e.g., engage clinicians and researchers in responding to publications.
  6. Create mechanisms to disseminate information on available grants, mentorships, fellowships, and post-doctoral opportunities.


MTR2025 is an initiative of AMTA geared towards stimulating conversation about building research capacity and growing the production and usage of high quality research in music therapy.

Multiple cross-cutting themes emerged at MTR2025 symposium. Here is a selection:

  • Consumer Impact. The critical importance of the consumers’ voices in music therapy research, planning, and implementation
  • Clinician Involvement. The essential role of the practicing music therapist in accessing and using published research and in participating in research as clinician-scholars and as part of team science
  • Diverse Methodologies. The value of embracing diverse, complex, and integrated research methodologies
  • Theory. The need to further develop, integrate, describe, and link theory and theoretical models in music therapy research with well articulated and defined music therapy interventions
  • Research Capacity Building. The need to grow research capacity among music therapists with attention to both research infrastructure as well as education, training, and continuing education
  • Economic Analyses. The importance of including, where appropriate, cost and economic analyses as part of music therapy research including building research partnerships with individuals skilled in cost analyses and economic research
  • Expanding Partnerships. The value of expanding and growing collaborations, partnerships, and networks (including interdisciplinary team science) for efficient and productive work in important lines of research

The recommendations developed by symposium participants represent only a fraction of the important dialogue and exchange occurring before, during, and continuing after the symposium. As we rocket towards the year 2025, it is important that each individual consider one’s role and contribution in growing and sustaining a legacy of research to inform practice and, ultimately, benefit our clients and their families.

This symposium was just the beginning. Following the July, 2015, symposium, AMTA continues MTR2025 by way of an array of discussions, activities, and processes to infuse, embed, and integrate research as a cross-cutting and essential feature of clinical and association functions designed to increase access to and quality of music therapy services.




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