Music Therapy in Norway


Already in the 1960s there was a growing interest in music therapy in Norway. In 1971 the Norwegian Association of Music Therapy was established and during the first half of the 1970s several seminars were given in music therapy by for example, Paul Nordoff & Clive Robbins. Today the Norwegian Association of Music Therapy (NFMT) ( counts 250 members and is an associate of the Norwegian Council of Music ( Presently Trygve Aasgaard is the elected leader of the NFMT. The title "Music Therapist" was approved by the Government in 1992 and many music therapists are unionised in the Trade Union Musikernes Fellesorganisasjon [Norwegian Musicians' Union] (, which has a section for music therapists.

The first Nordic Conference in Music Therapy took place at Sandane in 1991, while the first National Conference in the profession was carried out in 1997 in Oslo. Norway has been a member of the EMTC ( ) since 1995. The current Norwegian representative is Kerstin Dyblie Erdal.


The first Norwegian training programme in music therapy was established in 1978 in Oslo with Even Ruud as its first co-ordinator. Ten years later, in 1988, a branch of the Music Therapy program in Oslo was formed at Sandane, Sogn og Fjordane University College, with Brynjulf Stige as the leading person.

The Norwegian training up till today has been a two-year post-baccalaureate program accepting students with undergraduate degrees in music e.g. (special) education, nursing, psychology, occupational therapy. So far 340 students have been educated as music therapists in Norway.

Since 1994 more than 30 students have completed their Master's Degrees in Music Therapy at the Norwegian Academy of Music/University of Oslo. Five Norwegian music therapists have obtained their degree Ph.D. in music therapy. And recently, two music therapists completed their training in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (BMGIM) (

By the autumn term 2004 the music therapy training is composed by a one-year study of Music and Health (BA) as part of or top of an undergraduate degree. Candidates may then commence a two years Master study in music therapy. Accordingly, only a completed master's degree will qualify for a diploma in music therapy and the title "Music Therapist".

Today there are two institutions providing music therapy training. The Norwegian Academy of Music ( offers BA, MA and Ph.D. in music therapy and Sogn and Fjordane University College ( offers BA and MA. The latter in co-operation with The Norwegian Academy of Music in Oslo.

The Norwegian approach to music therapy in the training programs consists of three main branches, which are Theory and Methods, Pedagogical and Psychological skills and Musical- and Personal development. The first area Theory and Methods includes; theory of music therapy, improvisation, composition, clinical music therapy, practical projects and drama. The second area, Pedagogical and Psychological skills, contains neuropsychology, psychology and special education theory. While the third area, Musical- and Personal development, consists of different musical courses (e.g. pschycodrama), self-experience, functional piano, BMGIM level I in addition to supervised clinical work (1 day a week).

Traditionally, practical skills in research (methods, statistics etc.) were not a part of the training-curriculum but the focus upon methodology has indeed increased as the interest for research has been rapidly growing. Today research methodology is compulsory at the level of MA and Ph.D.


There are two music therapy journals and one electronic forum edited in Norway.

The journal for the Norwegian Association for music therapists is called Musikkterapi and is published in Norwegian four times a year. The journal contains articles, methodical matters, interviews, book reviews, information, debates and job advertisements (

During the first Nordic Conference in music therapy in 1991, the idea of a Nordic Journal of Music Therapy emerged. Based on a Nordic co-operation, the first issue came in 1992. The Nordic Journal of Music Therapy is a peer-reviewed journal with a good reputation from an international point of view, not least to the focus on qualitative research. The Nordic Journal is published twice a year and has subscribers and authors from all over the world. It includes e.g. philosophical articles, qualitative and quantitative research articles, a series of classical articles and texts from practice in the field of music therapy. The journal is published by Sogn and Fjordane University College. The current editor-in-chief is Brynjulf Stige. The journal's website ( also contains links to music therapy world-wide.

Clinical Practice[2]

From the early days of music therapy most music therapists were employed within the Special Educational systems in Norway. There has been a strong influence from the Nordoff and Robbins approach (1971/83; 1977) both in the training and not least in the clinical practice of music therapy in Norway. "Therapeutic improvisation" (Næss, 1989) and the use of play-songs (Johns, 1996) have been important tools. Today improvisation is still at stake as the most important approach within all clinical practices. Still, there are many music therapists employed within Special Education systems for example in normal as well as special schools, kindergartens, prisons and in music schools. During the last decade, however, new developments have taken place within different areas.

New fields of practice for professional music therapists have emerged within psychoanalytic/psychotherapeutic influenced approaches to music therapy (not least to BMGIM) (in-patient and out-patient) (e.g. Eckhoff, 1995; Rolvsjord, 2001; Ruud, 2003; Trondalen, 2001). There is also a growing interest in palliative care and paediatric cancer care (Aasgaard, 1999; 2000; 2001; 2004b), Hiv/Aids and prison services, geriatric wards, private music therapy centra[3] and in childcare institutions (Trolldalen, 1997).

However hardly any of the medical hospital settings (in-patient treatment) for adult patients employ music therapists. Norway does not have a strong tradition of psycho-somatic hospital departments, and the majority of Norwegian music therapists have hitherto seemed to pay little interest in this very important field of practice. This is not least due to a strong medical tradition, where music therapists generally not are counted in as a natural member of a medical team at a hospital[4]. Music therapists do also work as consultants in health care system, as administrators, as teachers in the education system (high school, university), in counselling and county team, in autism centre and in observation centre (Tønsberg & Hauge, 1996).

From a theoretical point of view many areas of clinical practice may be included in the term Community-based work (Ruud, 1998; Stige, 2002; Aasgaard, 1999) such as cultural engagement (culture and health), youth clubs, within old age welfare services activity centres, for example engaging intellectually disabled people in music activities, a variety of projects and in human service system e.g. health centres.

Theoretical Foundations

The official philosophy of the training programs has always been to give the students a broad introduction to music therapy and "thus assisting in providing a solid background which would facilitate employment" (Ruud, 1993, p.449). Following, teachers with various theoretical and practical backgrounds are used as teachers and role models. (e.g. Borchgrevink, 1996). Accordingly, we believe it is correct to say that Norwegian music therapists have been relatively "open to the World". This is not the least due to the influence of Even Ruud's "encyclopaedic" interests and knowledge of music therapy's different relationships to psychological and medical treatment theories, i.e. from anthropology to educational theory (see e.g. Ruud, 1998; Ruud & Mahns, 1992). Such an eclectic philosophy is based on humanistic psychology or philosophy. Central elements in this "humanistic music therapy approach" are based on ideas from (special) educational theory, music therapy theory, "psychotherapeutic" music therapy and music as Cultural Engagement.

Over the years, there have been developed possible alternative theoretical basis for clinical practice, making a starting point in cognitive and humanistic psychology. In later years, there has also been an emphasis on developmentally informed theory based on infant research (Rolvsjord, 2001; Trondalen, 2003)[5]. Furthermore, it should be mentioned that music therapy in Norway always was thought of in a social context. That means, from the beginning the music therapists never wanted to limit music therapy only to the treatment room. They also wanted to bring music therapy into the society and create community-based work, where music functions within the culture. This cultural outline has its deepest roots at the training program at Sandane, where they have established their own profile with an emphasis on community based work (Stige, 2002).

There is no official definition of Music Therapy in Norway. The definitions vary from: "Music therapy is the use of music to increase possibilities of actions" (Ruud, 1990) to Kenneth Bruscia's definition: "Music therapy is a systematic process of intervention wherein the therapist helps the client to promote health, using music experiences and the relationships that develops through them as dynamic forces of change" (Bruscia, 1998).

The Norwegian philosophy do not emphasise music as something practised in the service of the art itself. Music is rather seen as a means by which individuals can realise greater personal and social fulfilment, both in individual music therapy treatment and in group-approaches. An example of this may be to look at how music provides an important source of group belonging, where the music therapist has the music (as a tool) and knowledge how to provide a common musical space for those who feel left out of society (Ruud, 1997).

As indicated above, social democratic political ideas have clearly influenced core values of Norwegian music therapy: musical activities, and indeed music therapy, must be inclusive, aiming to foster a spirit of community and not creating individual winners or losers. Ideas taken from sociology, anthropology and social psychology have perhaps had more impact on the Norwegian music therapy scene than psychoanalytic, behaviouristic or medical theories. Most Norwegian music therapists seem to have (had) a rather eclectic attitude to music therapy theory, which means there are hardly any opposing "schools" of practice or research in the country.

Research And Future Trends

Norwegian music therapists' contributions to the development of community oriented music therapy theories and practices have been manifold (Ruud, 2004; Stige, 2003; Stige, 2004; Aasgaard, 2004a). Other contemporary music therapists (Johns, 1993; Rolvsjord, 2001; Trondalen, 2003) have developed a practice and a body of research influenced by modern developmentally informed theory based on infant research (e.g. Bråten, 1998; Stern, 1985/2000; Trevarthen, 1999). A complementary theoretical research comes from Rudy Garred's thesis Dialogical Dimensions of Music Therapy (Garred, 2004), based on the concept of music as dialogue emerging from Martin Buber's philosophy.

The Sogn og Fjordane University College has established a four year collaborative Research Project (2004-2008), Funded by The Research Council of Norway. The research project is named Music and Health in Late Modernity: Resource-oriented Music Therapy and Community Music Therapy ( In these two fields there are established a three-way research collaboration with University of Pretoria and the Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre, London.

The Norwegian Academy of Music is connected to the Erasmus Programme (European Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students, and is consecutively exchanging teachers in music therapy e.g. with Spain and Germany. The Norwegian Academy of Music and The University of Aalborg ( do also make use of each other's teachers and professional competency in different ways such as teaching, supervision and external examination.

Research into the relationships between music and medicine is still in its infancy, both thematically and methodically. Within some years themes hopefully music therapy research in Norway will include all the various levels of music therapy's "medical practices" proposed by Bruscia as "Therapeutic Music", "Music in Medicine", "Music in Palliative Care", "Music as Medicine" and "Music Therapy and Medicine"(Bruscia, 1998). It is uplifting that the interest for music therapy from the medical profession in Norway has resulted in new, interesting, interdisciplinary projects and widely read (and commented) medically based music therapy literature.

Sometimes it is hard discriminate between "wishful thinking" and carefully constructed arguments about what is "probably" going to happen in the near future. However, there are some tendencies that may be significant traits in Norway within some years. For example there seems to be an increased interest in relationships between music/the arts, health and spirituality. This country, believed to provide its citizens with a very high quality of living, also has a high number of long-term ill or unemployed persons. The number of psychiatric consultations is increasing and more people than ever live alone: traditional social networks are dwindling. Accordingly, we take the liberty to "dream" a little here:

New forms of social-technological musical involvement in the general population will be developed in the years to come - music therapists will be ready to include these on their "repertoire". Music as a social activity will more commonly be offered to vulnerable groups (unemployed, young, elderly, chronically ill etc.). A salutogenic(health-orientated) perspective will become widely accepted in music therapy, psycho-somatic medicine, psychology, psychiatry and social education. Studying (i.e. researching) salutogenesis and working within a health-perspective will obtain the same status as studying pathogenesis and treating diseases. Various forms of musical involvement will be a preferred means of "team-building" in various types of organisations. Music therapists will, however, have to demonstrate their particular skills and what are their natural habitats in the many grey-zones between music therapy, "health-musicing" and other communally organised musical activities (orchestras, choirs etc.) run by other professionals.

Other aspects have to do with spirituality and existential considerations. Even if the number of regular churchgoers seems to decrease, people's spiritual needs and existential questions concerning life in a broad sense, does not seem to be weakened. This part of (religious) life , however, may be materialised in new and perhaps more individual forms. Music has always provided for experiences (related to "hope") described as "being near to God or something holy or spiritual". But music therapy training and practices in Norway have, hitherto, not paid much attention to "spiritual matters". An important question seems to be to what extent future Norwegian music therapists are prepared (or interested in) to work with their clients' spiritual and existential needs?

We would like to end with a vision: Contemporary music therapy students are more often than before oriented towards a particular specialisation. During the last two years several new interest groups of Norwegian music therapists have emerged. This development has started "vom Unten" in this millennium by music therapists in fields of clinical practice like cancer care, geriatrics, cultural schools and psychiatry, acknowledging the need for more specialised knowledge. From this emerges also the need for clearly defined professional identities than ever before. In 2015 we wonder if there will be international training programmes (MA/post-MA levels) in various clinical specialisations...perhaps Norwegian music therapists and institutions also may contribute to make this happen?


[1] Because this is a text in English, we have decided to refer to books and articles published by Norwegians in English. Accordingly, a lot of the national literature will not be presented here. Unfortunately, most of the literature in clinical practice in published only Norwegian.

[2] For an extensive amount of articles from clinical practice published in Norwegian cf. The Norwegian Journal Musikkterapi (

[3] There are two private Music Therapy Institutes in Norway at the moment: Musikk og Bevegelse and Baerum Music Therapy Institute

[4] Vibro-acoustic therapy was developed in Norway by Olaf Skille already in 1980; this method of treatment seem today to have far numerous practitioners abroad than "at home" (Skille, 1997).

[5] In this connection it is important to mention Unni Johns' (1993) article about Intersubjetivitet som grunnlag for utvikling (Intersubjectivity as Basis for Development).



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How to cite this page

Aasgaard, Trygve & Trondalen, Gro (2004). Music Therapy in Norway. Voices Resources. Retrieved May 01, 2018, from