Music Therapy in Bahrain

Bahrain flag

Bahrain is an archipelago in the Persian Gulf, east of Saudi Arabia. It consists of 33 islands, the largest being Bahrain. Its total area is 760 Bahrain is connected to Saudi Arabia by the King Fahad causeway. To the southeast across the Persian Gulf is Qatar, which will eventually be linked to Bahrain by the world’s longest marine causeway, currently under construction. There are approximately 1,214,705 people living in Bahrain, of which 54% are foreigners. The official language is Arabic, with English widely spoken. The government of Bahrain is a monarchy, ruled by the HH King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa.

History of Bahrain

Prior to the 4th century BC there are no historical references to Bahrain, though the country is believed to be associated with Dilmun, a Bronze age trade center linking Mesopotamia and the Indus Valley. From the 6th century BC to the arrival of Islam in the 7th century AD, Bahrain was controlled by the dynasties of the Persian Empire. In the 16th century it was controlled by the Portuguese for 80 years, and then fell back under the Persian control. The current ruling dynasty (tribe) of Al-Khalifa came to Bahrain from Kuwait, and in 1820 entered into a treaty with Great Britain, the dominant military power in the region at a time. This treaty granted Al-Khalifa the title of Rulers of Bahrain. Bahrain underwent a period of major social reform between 1926 and 1957. The country’s first modern school for boys was established in 1919, and the Gulf’s first girls’ school opened in 1928. The discovery of petroleum in 1932 brought further modernization to Bahrain. To this day, Bahrain’s economy continues to depend on oil; and other major economical activities are construction and the production of aluminum.

Traditional Role of Music in Bahrain

Music plays an important role in the Bahraini culture. It is used at the celebrations of weddings and births. Bahraini music is traditionally Arab music, played on the Oud (eleven-strings lute) and the Rebaba (a one-string instrument). The Khaleeji style is the style of the Gulf-area folk music, which in Bahrain is played with polyrhythms. This style is influenced by the music of Africa. Another traditional style of music is Sawt - bluesy music with African, Persian and Indian influences. Music is used widely in traditional dances, such as the Ardha- male sword dance, accompanied by the drums and poetic songs. The Fidjeri is a dance with clapping and singing which belongs exclusively to the Bahrain’s male pearl diving community. Another popular dance form is Belly dancing, which is widely knows across the continents.

Music is accepted throughout all areas of society, however there may be some limitations. For example, some people believe that music is “haram”, something which is forbidden, sinful. But many sources say that only music that leads to sinful acts such as drugs, violence, sex, etc., is “haram.” Otherwise music is given to people by the God himself. In general, it seems evident that people have an innate understanding about the importance of music in life and the positive effects it can bring,

Music Therapy in Bahrain

Music therapy as a profession was basically non-existent in Bahrain until I arrived in 2008 when joining my husband in Bahrain. I was not very sure if I would be able to find a job in music therapy, however a friend of mine told me about a new school for children with special needs which was opening its’ doors in September 2008. I contacted the principal of the Children’s Academy and received an interview invitation.

I began my work at the Children’s Academy in October 2008. This private school is affiliated with the prestigious Alpha Plus Group which manages independent schools in England. The Children’s Academy caters to children with mild to moderate special needs, including communication delays, ADHD, autism, Down’s syndrome, and specific needs associated with dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. The school has a low pupil-teacher ratio (3:1 approximately), and high quality facilities, such as a state of the art sensory room, an indoor soft play room, a heated swimming pool and therapy rooms. All staff members are internationally educated and accredited, coming from Australia, UK, Ireland, South Africa, USA and Canada. The school provides individualized educational plans (IEP) within the English curriculum, and each child receives a variety of therapies on a weekly basis, including occupational, language, physical, behavioral and music therapy. Around 80 percent of the pupils come from Bahraini/ Saudi Arabian families and the rest are expatriates. When the school first opened its doors in September 2008, there were only three classes, including one classroom for children with autism. Two years later, the school had expanded its premises and now consists of seven classes with 10 children maximum in each. The age range of the students is between 2 1/2 to 13 years. The school has become well known in Bahrain for its standard and the high quality of services offered.

My work at the Children’s Academy has been very interesting and challenging. As the only music therapist in the country, I have become an advocate for and an educator about our profession. Fortunately, the school’s proprietors and the principal, Mr. Greg McDonald, are very supportive and understanding. The school purchased a variety of musical instruments, including a clavinova piano, a guitar, drums and numerous percussive instruments. I conduct individual and group music therapy sessions, assess children regularly, develop and implement treatment plans for each child, and write individual reports twice a year. I also conduct group and individual sessions with the students from the outreach program once a week. Every year I am invited to give interactive presentations on music therapy to the parents of the pupils.

During these years at the Academy I have also conducted numerous educational workshops and have received positive feedback from the parents and teachers alike. Through these workshops, I aim to improve their understanding of the benefits of music therapy, what children do during sessions, what goals we are trying to achieve and what the differences are between music classes and music therapy sessions.

While there has been progress in establishing music therapy in Bahrain, there are, however, some challenges I have faced as being the sole representative of our profession here. First, there is a lack of a professional support in situations when one needs some fresh ideas or guidance, and few opportunities for professional development. In such cases I use literature, the Internet and social networks for help and support. I communicate with the music therapists from Dubai, Jordan and Qatar, and partake in online activities. For example, I participated in the organizing committee for the Online Conference for Music Therapy (OCMT 2011 and OCMT 2012) and in projects with the World Federation of Music Therapy. Secondly, there are still misunderstandings concerning what music therapy is, thus I regularly find ways to educate and inform people regarding the unique features of music therapy and the differences between this profession and music education. It is also a challenge to acquire referrals, most likely due to the fact that the concept of music therapy and how it can help a range of populations is absolutely new in Bahrain.

Future Considerations:

Music therapy is in its infancy at this time. Currently it is feasible for music therapists to pursue private practice. Bahrain has health care treatment centers that are well-equipped to provide excellent care to people facing a wide range of issues, such as cancer, medical illnesses, dementia, neurological disorders and more. In time, music therapy may be introduced into these settings and included within treatment plans. In addition, there is a need to further develop music therapy services for children and adolescents with special needs, as well as for their parents and siblings, who at the moment find little support in the society. This is just a beginning!

About the author

Aksana Kavaliova-Moussi I am the only music therapist working in the Kingdom of Bahrain. I was born in Belarus, to a family of musicians. I studied music theory and history at the Vitebsk State College of Music, got my BA in Cultural Studies from the Belarusian State University of Arts and Culture. We then lived in Bahrain with my husband before moving to Canada, where I completed my Honors Bachelor degree in Music Therapy at the University of Windsor, Ontario, in 2008. During my studies I had a pleasure to practice under the supervision of such excellent music therapists as Dr. Petra Kern (Past President of the WFMT) and Dr. Lucanne Magill (Council member of the WFMT). I worked with children with special needs, expectant young mothers, with pediatric patients at the local hospital, as well as with hospice patients in Windsor, Ontario, and Detroit Area, Michigan. I was a student music therapist in “the Music Therapy and Medicine” programme supervised at that time by Dr. Sandra Curtis, which provided music therapy services to oncology and palliative care patients at the Windsor Regional Hospital. The people with whom I worked came from various countries, cultures and religions. This, together with my personal background, helped me to develop multicultural sensitivity which is very important for the modern music therapist.

Websites for Music Therapy in Bahrain

In order to promote music therapy here, I developed this website,

The Children’s Academy of Bahrain website:


CIA the wold fact book (n.d.) Bahrain. Retrieved August 6, 2011, from

Mansell, W. (2011) Expat guide to Bahrain: schools. The Telegraph, 15 feb. 2011., Retrieved August 7, 2011, from

Wikipedia (n.d.). Bahrain. Retrieved August 6, 2011 from

How to cite this page

Kavaliova-Moussi, Aksana (2012). Music therapy in Bahrain Music Therapy in Bahrain. Voices Resources. Retrieved January 09, 2015, from

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