A Research Emphasis at the Music Therapy Research Centre Vienna (WZMF)
The endeavours of practicing, researching, and teaching music therapy are always embedded in broader contexts with which they interact. The reciprocal influencing that occurs here can be examined on various levels: on the macro level, it involves overall societal norms and structures that influence how music therapy is conceived of and practiced. Then there is a meso-level where the values systems of different professions meet within the institutions where music therapy is practiced. And finally there is the micro-level, where all of these influencing factors become clear in direct encounters between individuals: between therapists and clients but also between colleagues on multi-professional teams.
This thematic spectrum is the subject of a newly established research emphasis at the WZMF. With financial support from the Gender|Queer|Diversität-Call_mdw 2022 issued by Plattform Gender_mdw, a course led by Julia Fent planned and conducted a public symposium in June 2023 that kicked off exchange between students, teaching faculty, researchers, and practitioners hailing from music therapy and adjacent fields regarding the thematic areas sketched out above. The general foundational principles of the new research emphasis “Music Therapy and Society” are, firstly, the clarification of various fundamental epistemological assumptions of music therapy research and resulting notions of evidence; secondly, critical reflection upon the various positionings of all participants with regard to societal power structures; thirdly, the consideration of organisational factors such as differing values systems in the healthcare sector and its hierarchical conditions; and fourthly, cooperation and networking with society’s relevant stakeholders.
In various research projects at the WZMF, the forms in which all of this has crystallised include the following questions:
What societal norms are operative in music therapy, and how do they become evident?
Reflection on this question should help to combat the (re)production of stereotypical attributions in one’s own practice. The current research project “REFLEaCT” (coordination: Julia Fent) pursues the question of just what requirements and potentials of music therapy are invoked by the deliberate involvement of psychological problems’ social dimensions (such as poverty, discrimination, and stigmatisation).
How has the professional situation of music therapists been developing over time?
The project “Musiktherapie-Monitor Österreich” [Music Therapy Monitor Austria] (coordination: Hannah Riedl and Eva Phan Quoc) investigates music therapists’ professional situations, fields of work, financial situations, etc. every two years by way of an online questionnaire. This makes it possible to perceive shifts in the realm of actual practice and enables interactions with overall societal developments to be understood.
How is music therapy anchored in the healthcare system, and what economic and ethical questions arise as a result?
Despite the achievement of legal recognition as a healthcare profession, it has not yet proved possible to make music therapy services in private practice reimbursable by health insurers; the result is inequality of access. An ongoing PhD project by Hannah Riedl is focussed on the interdisciplinary field of “Music Therapy and Health Economics” as one possible route via which to approach this topic.
What societal needs can music therapy fulfil in order to have a positive social impact?
Socio-political engagement expressed through work with marginalised individuals (e.g., in psychiatric care or in special needs and rehabilitative education) has always been a defining feature of the Viennese music therapy tradition. A focus on previously underrecognised target audiences and themes now aims to uphold and expand upon such commitment. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the WZMF conducted the preventive online project “lieblingslied.at” (coordination: Thomas Stegemann) in cooperation with the Department of Music Sociology. And currently, the project “SpielRaum schaffen” [Creating Room to Play] (Coordination: Julia Fent) is pursuing research on the health-promoting potentials of music therapy in the context of individuals who are unhoused.
How can research in the field of music therapy be pursued in a maximally inclusive manner with appropriate involvement of its users’ perspectives?
This requires closer examination of conventional notions of knowledge, such as can be accomplished via participative research. As part of the projects “My Tune” (coordination: Julia Fent and Irene Stepniczka) and “SpielRaum schaffen”, music therapy users and practitioners were involved as co-researchers in various ways.
Further steps toward consolidating the new WZMF research emphasis include the establishment of external cooperative relationships as well as even stronger thematically related networking within the mdw. In this way, the WZMF aims to develop into a centre of competence for a music therapy that reflects upon diversity and criticises structures of power while being mindful of its societal situatedness.