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About Nordic Music Therapy cooperation

September 20, 2006; Jaakko Erkkilä (jerkkila@campus.jyu.fi)

About Nordic Music Therapy cooperation


In June 2006 in Stockholm, where the 5th Nordic Conference on Music Therapy was held, we had a round-table discussion concerning the Nordic cooperation. The organization board of the conference had prepared some specific themes to be discussed. They were:

  • How can the cooperation between Nordic countries improve, and what kind of cooperation do we need?
  • How can the Nordic conferences best be utilized and what are our common purposes with these conferences?
  • The situation for music therapy in the Nordic countries, regarding professional recognition and working opportunities

I was asked to chair the round-table. So, I contacted the country delegates of the EMTC (North Europe) and asked them to find out who in each country are available and have expertise on these issues enough to represent their country. Finally the group was Esa Ala-Ruona (Finland), Lars-Ole Bonde (Denmark), Kerstin Dyblie Erdal (Norway), Valgerdur Jonsdottir (Iceland), Hanne-Mette Ochsner (Denmark), Rut Wallius (Sweden), in addition to me.

Because the themes were complicated and overlapping, we ended up going rather freely with them. In my opinion, the discussion was very productive and informative and because we had time enough, the comments and questions from the audience could be noticed as well. In the next I will sum up some of the main themes of the discussion without specifying the speakers. This way I hope, the report is more readable.

Nordic Cooperation in General

Nordic countries together with Baltic countries form a natural network for collaboration in many ways. The fact that Baltic music therapy people do participate increasingly in the Nordic music therapy collaboration strengthens the North-European impact and is welcome. The Nordic conference is the most important context for the music therapy community to meet each other in terms of clinical work, professional issues, research and training.

However, because we are not “beginners” anymore and there is a rather long tradition of Nordic music therapy collaboration, we are not as idealistic as we maybe were twenty years ago. There are a lot of differences in music therapy traditions and needs between the countries, and those who have been in the field for a long time really know how slow the progress can be – as well as how hard it is to agree on common criterions, for instance. In some countries music therapists work hard in order to link the profession to the neighbour disciplines such as psychotherapy, whereas in some other countries music therapy seems to aim at more independent existence, or is nearer some other professions such as special education. It may well be even so, that there are different ambitions within a country.

We talked about the European music therapy register, which is the plan prepared by the EMTC. Most of the speakers were for the register, probably all, but some critical comments were heard as well. After the critics, the register was not seen as the right way to start the collaboration. Stating that it is more important to define discipline-related issues, such as who we are first, defended this view. Moreover, it was stated that it is rather easy to make agreements on structural level but that we can never standardize the contents.

[The authors’ comment]: The register discussion brought out what is happening in today’s music therapy in general – that we have different movements under the umbrella title of “Music Therapy” that, actually, are rather separate from each others fundamentally. At least there is a kind of division that we could call something like “music psychotherapy and other music therapy.” Traditionally our community has seen diversity as good and valuable. However, there is an increasing need in many countries to make music therapy official and recognized. In order to do that we have to define the profession in terms of clinical practice, theory, training and research – all issues that the orderer of our services has to know to avoid buying something sight unseen.

In general, when developing the national systems, it was seen as important to have this kind of Nordic network where we can learn from what people in other countries have done and how effective or ineffective certain efforts have been.

The Strengths and Future Views

In addition to the Nordic conference, the impact of the Nordic Journal of Music Therapy was seen as very important and powerful for the Nordic music therapy identity. The great web sites such as Voices and the NJMT’s web-site were seen as important and beneficial as well – thanks to Norway for hosting them. Due to their quality and philosophy, these web sites are recognized internationally. Maybe we could open our conference to international audience as well, was one of the suggestions. [Author’s comment]: Actually, we have done it once. It was the previous Nordic conference in Bergen, Norway, where some of the presenters and participants came from USA, Israel, etc.

Some congress practices in the last European congresses, such as a Symposia on a specific topic, was seen as good and as something that we could adopt for the Nordic congress as well. In general, there is much we can develop and improve as well as re-construct, indeed. For instance, we can improve the preparation of Nordic congress. Our national associations could communicate more actively. In terms of training, we could still develop teacher and student exchange. This could become easier if we can find ways to realize the Nordic summer school plan – the plan that some people have discussed for some time.

The training programs were dealt with from the Nordic collaboration point of view as well. They too could collaborate more. Albeit the mother language is important for the national identity, it would be much easier to collaborate between the training programs if all the countries had at least English summaries included in their web-sites. We should acknowledge the fact that there is such a strange language in Scandinavia like Finnish, not forgetting the Baltic languages.

In most of the countries of our network, bachelor and master level trainings can be found. In addition, we have the Aalborg PhD-school in Denmark that is a very potential possibility for those who are interested in research and higher academic qualification. The Danish speaker did emphasize that the school is open for non-Danish students as well.

One of the latest Nordic projects is ‘Thanks to Scandinavia’. It is based on the initiative by Joanne Loewy, the head of the music therapy clinic of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, USA. The project, funded by the Beth Israel Medical Center, makes possible for some Scandinavian music therapy clinicians to get scholarship and intership at the Beth Israel Medical Center. This opportunity is very valuable for us because in Nordic countries we do not have too much music therapy in somatic hospitals. A delegation consisting of Scandinavian music therapy trainers are going to visit the Beth Israel Medical Center in October 2006. The purpose of the visit is to negotiate the principles of the collaboration as well as to get to know the idea and philosophy of the clinic.


Much has happened since the first Nordic conference at Sandane, Norway, almost twenty years ago. Brynjulf Stige, the organizer of that conference has told how difficult it was to trace the music therapy key figures in other Nordic countries. It was not possible to ‘google’ or resort to e-mail in order to get the necessary contacts. Actually, it is amazing how quickly the profession has developed and professionalized in Nordic countries in a relatively short time since the times of the first Nordic conference. In most countries we have university chairs, bachelor and master level training, research projects, specialized clinical practices, etc.

Maybe all the idealistic dreams on Nordic collaboration have not come true and, indeed, there is still a lot of room for improvements. Maybe there are more divergent ambitions than we did except in the first place. However, music therapy has survived through the hard years of 1990’s in all of the countries – and even improved. So, there are a lot of reasons to be satisfied.

The great challenge of the future is how constructive we can be in terms of collaboration when the life is getting harder. Here I refer to the universal trend of ‘hard values’ at the cost of pluralism of 1980’s. I think that in addition to the common structures, we have to discuss on common contents and criterions too, sooner or later. In a way, the European music therapy register process, in this respect, reflects this kind of development. Individual countries, especially EU-members, seem not to be as autonomous as they were twenty years ago.

© 2006. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy. All right reserved. This page was last updated by Rune Rolvsjord September 20, 2006.