NaMTRU aims to engage and integrate with key stakeholders and to educate and empower students and practitioners to enrich society through music therapy.
The National Music Therapy Research Unit (NaMTRU) was established by Emeritus Professor Denise Grocke in 1999 as a mechanism for promoting and disseminating research relevant to the practice of music therapy. Since that time, NaMTRU has provided a research milieu for academics and graduate researchers, promoting a balance of empirical, theoretical, clinical and musical dimensions in research.
Research at NaMTRU
NaMTRU has generated a rich tradition of funded research and productively disseminated findings in international and local forums. See the 2010 NaMTRU Research Report for more information about our research outcomes.
All students completing their music therapy training in the Masters of Music Therapy Coursework program are also required to undertake a minor independent research project in their final year.
Key Research Areas
Music therapy is a research-based profession, and our team has contributed local data to the strong international evidence base underpinning the profession. Our research proves the benefits of music therapy in the areas of neurorehabilitation, autism, dementia care, youth and adult mental health, and disability.
We teach and develop theories to explain how music can be used to facilitate an array of health and wellbeing benefits. Our music therapy program emphasises an eclectic mix of humanistic, psychodynamic, medical, developmental and ecological perspectives to suit the diverse contexts where music therapists practice. We have also contributed to theory development and understanding of unique music therapy methods including song-writing, music selection, and Guided Imagery and Music.
Our team engages with a range of stakeholders to ensure that all people have equitable access to music experiences that may benefit their health and wellbeing. We have conducted research in schools, health care services, the disability sector and mental health settings. Music therapists in training also do placements in community contexts both in Australia and across the Asia region. We strive to engage with local and international partners to remain connected to community.
Current PhD researchers
From social connectedness to equitable access: A participatory action research illuminating the ways in which young people with disability can engage with music opportunities and the barriers that prevent them doing so
The project is collaboration between Scope, a large disability service organisation and the National Music Therapy Research Unit. Melissa’s investigation has shifted from focusing on young people’s sense of social connectedness and the role that music may play in this, to the more pressing challenge of how they may access music on a more equitable basis. Informed by critical disability studies and community music therapy theory, the project has coincided with the roll out of a new disability funding model in Australia, the National Disability Insurance Scheme. Influenced by the philosophy of the scheme with its emphasis on individual choice, Melissa has worked with young people, first by inquiring how they feel about their social connectedness and then establishing a collaboratively run weekly community music rock band with a group of young people and others from the broader community.
Collaborative songwriting with children experiencing homelessness and family violence to understand the resources they draw upon when life gets hard
The majority of the literature about children experiencing homelessness and family violence focusses on reporting problems and highlighting detrimental health, educational and developmental outcomes for children. In contrast, there is little acknowledgement of children’s personal resources and capacities in times of crisis. Rebecca’s research aims to embed children’s voices in to the current discourse and to explore the strengths and resources that they draw upon when life gets hard. Song writing was used as a collaborative research method to co-construct knowledge with children through group and individual interviews, with children being invited to write songs about what helps them to ‘do well’ in their everyday lives. The songs created represent the capacity and resilience of children despite their experiences of transience and violence, while also acknowledging the gaps in the service system including the limited social and emotional opportunities for children in this context.
Exploring parents’ musical engagement with their baby and parental identity across the Neonatal Unit journey
This study follows on from a previous qualitative inquiry conducted by the student researcher, exploring parents’ experiences and perceptions of singing and using their voice with their baby in a NU through interpretative phenomenology. Results illuminated singing and voice interactions leading to the validation of a parent’s identity through their baby’s perceived recognition of their unique voice (McLean, under review). This second study expands on these initial findings to explore the notion of parental identity and its potential connection with a parent’s engagement in musical exchanges with their baby in a NU which is currently underrepresented both within neonatal music therapy research and further afield. This is a multi- site study, taking place at Monash Health, Monash Newborn in Melbourne in which the student researcher works as a RMT across two NU’s.
Inclusion, exclusion, and the performance of difference?
Ben’s thesis examines the social world of community choral singing through a qualitative and reflexive study of member experiences of singing with the Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Youth Chorus (now, shOUT Youth Chorus), the youth chorus of Melbourne Gay and Lesbian Chorus, Inc (MGLC). Ben’s study explores what the Youth Chorus means for its young members, as a place of social and musical inclusion, exclusion, safety, and the performance of identities. Ben is a community musician, choral leader, and scholar, and brings to his PhD a social sciences research background in international relations and foreign policy. Ben is active as a community choir leader in Melbourne, working with singers of all ages and abilities, but with particular interest in supporting young adults to sing. Between 2009 and 2014, Ben was the music director of the Youth Chorus and associate music director of MGLC.
Music therapy practice within the transdisciplinary team in an autism specialist school
This research is a descriptive phenomenological study of a well-established team of music therapists working in an autism specialist school. The need for this study arose from my role in guiding the professional learning needs of this team. Interviews data captures descriptions of the experience of working within a transdisciplinary, educational setting, influences on practice and factors that help sustain that practice over the long-term. Key themes will provide the basis for broader study of clinical frameworks in autism specialist settings.
An exploration of what helps and hinders classroom teachers in embedding music in their daily teaching practice: a critical ethnography
The first stage of this study investigated conditions that helped and hindered school teachers from engaging with a primary school dance program, and subsequently embedding techniques from the dance program into their classroom teaching practice. Findings suggest that there were several underlying beliefs held by the teachers that prohibited them from using dance in their classrooms. This new knowledge offers practical information for music therapists and other school arts program providers hoping to engage with teachers.
Exploring relational competencies in music therapy group improvisation for people with borderline personality disorder
An ethnographically informed analysis of an 8-week group music therapy program.
Exploring relational competencies in music therapy group improvisation for people with borderline personality disorder
This PhD examines a critical feminist music therapy project with young people in high school. Foregrounded by my music therapy practice which is informed by anti-oppressive, participatory and resource-oriented frameworks, I seek to locate feminist music therapy into the burgeoning body of literature that explores arts-based activist research with young people. In parallel, I aim to contribute to the emerging body of feminist music therapy literature, by providing a leading example of the ways in which music therapists can support young people in schools to explore gender, power, and feminist activism. The primary component of the research is contextually bound by an eight-month data collection period spent in an outer Melbourne high school, during which I established a feminist music therapy program with several groups of young people. Data gathered over the project include critical ethnographic accounts, interviews with staff and students, and the songs and raps written by the young people involved.
Music as a force for social cohesion: exploring shared musical experiences of ritual and personal faith identity facilitate effective communication around multi-faith perspectives
This research is motivated by i) a current community need to create platforms for inter-faith dialogue and healing in Bendigo and ii) fascinating clinical experiences as a music therapist in a pastoral context, offering emotional and spiritual support to hospital patients. Ontological, epistemological and methodological possibilities are being explored, with a current leaning towards Paticipatory Action Research, influenced by Freire’s praxis "reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it”.
Understanding the affordances of group music therapy within a short-term diversion programme for young sex offenders in South Africa
This study is situated within the SPARC (Support Programme for Abuse Reactive Children) diversion programme, facilitated by a Non-Government Organisation – The Teddy Bear Clinic – in South Africa. Since 2006, music therapy has been offered alongside a cognitive-behavioural intervention as part of this short-term (one session per week for 12 weeks) programme for groups of non-residential first time young sex offenders. Based on the premise that sexual offences are often intertwined with personal and communal experiences of violence, neglect and abuse that also need to be addressed, the holistic programme aims to divert young people away from the court system, and enable them to develop coping skills which may prevent reoffending. My research will utilise a constructivist grounded theory methodology to develop a deeper understanding of both the immediate and long-term affordances of music therapy for programme participants. The collection of multiple, diverse perspectives will serve to generate a theory grounded within study data. This may challenge, affirm and/or enhance practice and theory within this context.
Functional electrical stimulation and ThumbJam©: A collaborative approach to upper limb stroke rehabilitation through therapeutic musical improvisation
This PhD project will investigate the effects of a novel music therapy intervention pairing an iPad music application with electrical stimulation in upper limb stroke rehabilitation. Stroke survivors will be recruited from 2 rehabilitation units based in Sydney, and 1 based in Amsterdam. Stroke survivors will be randomly assigned to the FES+ThumbJam© intervention group and the standard care control group for 8 weeks. Using validated physiotherapy tools, a baseline of the fine motor movement, wrist flexion and weight bearing will be measured prior to treatment and at the beginning of each session. Sessions will take place for 45 minutes, once the FES has been appropriately fitted to the stroke survivor by the relevant physiotherapist or occupational therapist.
Exploring how a group of long-term mindfulness meditators describe the experience of listening to researcher-chosen music, and the sound of bells, during an unguided mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness Based Therapies (MBTs) have been used in a wide range of clinical settings in the last forty years, and have included interventions such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), and many others. Up till now, little research has been done on using mindfulness-based interventions in music therapy, and much of this research has focused on more superficial aspects of mindfulness, rather than using its full potential as a clinical intervention. For a therapist to use mindfulness clinically requires them to have their own long-term meditation practice, and to complete facilitator training in an area such as MBSR, MBCT, ACT or DBT.
Work with us
PhD research in Music Therapy
Interested in music therapy research? Find out more about our PhD program and how you can contribute to the growing body of music therapy research.
Want to know more about music therapy? Visit the Australian Music Therapy Association website.