Parliamentary Roundtable – music and mental health

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Wed, 29/11/2017
On 28 November, we were delighted to return to Parliament to host the second Nordoff Robbins roundtable, supported by the BPI.

Exploring the power of music in the context of music and mental health, we were very thankful to Kate Green MP, Member of Parliament for Stretford and Urmston, for chairing the discussion, and to MPs Kevin Brennan, Christina Rees and the Rt. Hon Norman Lamb for their valuable contributions.

After welcome and introduction from Nordoff Robbins CEO Julie Whelan, BPI CEO Geoff Taylor, set the context of BPI support and interests in mental health – emphasising the BPI’s commitment to raising awareness of the economic, social and cultural Value of Music, with a focus on wellbeing and mental health.

In 2016, Nordoff Robbins delivered 26,500 music therapy sessions to 6,985 people, through our own centres and by working in partnerships with others. Our Director of Music Services, Oksana Zharinova-Sanderson explored this in the context of ongoing research being coordinated by Nordoff Robbins, into the impact of those services across schools and other settings, sharing examples from music therapy practice about the impact that our work has on people’s wellbeing.

We were grateful to all participants for their valuable contributions. The attending Parliamentarians, in many cases, shared personal and compelling testimonies to the power of music, with the Rt Hon Norman Lamb, in particular, drawing on his experience as Minister for Community and Social Care to share a story of witnessing the impact brought by the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra to a Merseyside mental health trust. The debate was concluded by David Munns, Nordoff Robbins Chair of the Board of Trustees, who shared his insights into the importance of music and music therapy as a powerful tool for communication.

A range of themes came out of discussions, including:
  • Mental health issues can be very isolating, but music and music therapy can have a positive impact, for example in anxiety reduction and social interaction.
  • Music therapy offers a means of interaction where verbally based thought processes are bypassed and a range of communicative and interactive possibilities can be used.
  • Personal, cultural and social dimensions can be identified to support ‘what works’ for mental health and wellbeing.
  • The landscape for health and care commissioning is complex and becoming more fragmented – which is a potential challenge for music therapy service provision.
  • More needs to be done to raise awareness of the compelling positive impact of music therapy, in order to ensure that funding is there to provide it.
  • Research is vital in making this case, extending our intuitive sense that music can have powerful effects on wellbeing towards providing clear and rigorous evidence for commissioners and policy-makers.
  • Funding for music education is essential, especially in schools. A lack of funding for musical study risks reducing numbers of music students at later stages of education.
  • The value of opening up the debate to a broad range of collaborators, to consider the value of music and wider social impact, that can be built upon going forward.
A note on the importance of evidence.

A key theme in the discussion highlighted the essential role of evidence in making the case for the impact of music and music therapy on mental health.

Nordoff Robbins aims to demonstrate the benefits of music therapy on mental health and wellbeing for children and young people, through adding to the current research on music therapy in schools and places of education. Nordoff Robbins has undertaken a study on the impact of its music therapy services in school settings, with overall findings showing that Nordoff Robbins music therapy was seen to have a positive impact on quality of life and wellbeing by 87% of respondents, and a positive impact on interaction, communication and/or relationships by 91% of respondents.

Nordoff Robbins is now planning a further research study, to commence in January 2018, investigating music therapy in mainstream and special educational needs schools. The research will support future research and practice concerning music therapy in educational settings and decision-making in music therapy, contributing to broader debates on arts in health and wellbeing.