Skip to main content

Unit for Social and Community Psychiatry

Group music therapy


Music therapy can reduce symptoms of mental illness and may be an important part of inpatient care. Hospital stays are short, so frequent sessions are needed to make a difference. A PhD funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) found how intensive group music therapy can be provided to appeal to patients admitted to hospital with mental health problems and give positive experiences. To put these findings into practice, the next step will be to develop guidance for music therapists (a manual) and see if it is effective. This research will develop guidelines/training and run a small study to prepare for a larger effectiveness study. This will improve music therapy practice and care for inpatients.

Research questions

  • What is the current evidence base regarding practice and outcomes of group music therapy for acute adult psychiatric inpatients and can it be updated?
  • What should clinical guidance look like for intensive group music therapy in acute inpatient settings?
  • How can clinical guidance be translated into training so that music therapists put this guidance into practice?
  • How feasible is it to test the effectiveness of intensive group music therapy using a randomised controlled trial design?

Research activities

  • Updated literature review: A previous PhD study identified features of intensive group music therapy that were important for people admitted to hospital because of the severity of their mental health problems. The findings were based on a systematic review of relevant literature, what patients and therapists said about music therapy sessions and what happened in the sessions themselves. This review was published in 2012, so we will do another search to ensure that we have not missed any new relevant findings. If a lot of studies have been published we may be able to combine them to assess the level of current evidence for effectiveness of music therapy with this patient group.
  • Manual Development: The findings from the PhD study implied that there were things that therapists could do enhance inpatients’ experiences and encourage people to continue attending. We will make these findings meaningful to music therapists by providing common scenarios that are encountered, therapist responses and outcomes as guidance for practice (a manual). We will present these scenarios to music therapists, patients and clinicians who work on inpatient wards to ensure the guidance is acceptable to them and fits with current hospital procedures and practice. We will ask them for ideas on training and how to make this better.
  • Training Development: We will design a training package to help music therapists put the guidance into practice. We will pilot this training with music therapists to evaluate whether this is useful and whether therapists use the training principles in their own practice.
  • Feasibility Study: Finally, we will run a small study to see if it is possible to run a larger rigorous study to test the effectiveness of the intervention. We will find out what patients and staff think about how the study is run, whether enough people will take part and to get some early information on different outcomes. This will help us to decide if it is possible to run a larger study and will inform us on how best to design this study.


This research will provide evidence as to whether it is possible to run a larger study to test effectiveness of intensive group music therapy along with information on how best to design such a study. The guidance and training will be developed by clinicians experienced in running groups in hospital settings. This will provide NHS music therapists with a means of updating and refining their clinical skills to meet the specific needs of people admitted to hospital with severe mental health problems. The manual and training developed may also be of relevance to arts therapists and other professions running groups in acute inpatient settings.


Dr Catherine Carr

Prof. Stefan Priebe

Associated papers:

Carr C, Odell-Miller H, Priebe S. A Systematic Review of Music Therapy Practice and Outcomes with Acute Adult Psychiatric In-Patients. PLoS ONE 2013; 8(8): e70252. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070252.


National Institute for Health Research, Clinical Lectureship

Return to top