top of page
  • Writer's pictureHarmonic Changes Therapy Services

Diversity and Inclusion in Music Therapy: Let's Talk About It!

Let’s explore a topic that many of us may find uncomfortable: diversity and inclusion. Why is this important? It is important for music therapists to humbly reflect and collaborate with peers to explore how to make the field of music therapy more inclusive for both colleagues and clients.

Let's talk about... Intersectionality

'Intersectionality' is acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression. Human beings are multi-faceted and defined by cultural identifiers, such as ethnicity, gender, religion, social class, age, culture, sexuality, ability, and more!

When we acknowledge intersectionality, we acknowledge that dynamic systems of privilege and oppression play a role in the therapeutic process and therapeutic relationship.

Music therapists value individuals for their uniqueness and creativity. The American Music Therapy Association states that in a therapeutic relationship, the Music Therapist must “demonstrate awareness of the influence of race, ethnicity, language, religion, marital status, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, ability, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation on the therapeutic process." We can connect with our clients from an integrated and individualized perspective when we become aware of our own intersecting axes of privilege and oppression.


Let's talk about... Multicultural Music

'Multicultural' refers to a part of a person’s race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, language, religious or spiritual affiliation, marital status, ability, education, socioeconomic status, affiliation, and lifestyle. The term 'multicultural' indicates contrasting identities interacting or relating to one another in some way.

Every culture has its own unique relationship to music, and music carries different meaning for various communities. Music is a great way to develop rapport and connection with clients in music therapy. However, it could be challenging to establish a strong therapeutic relationship if you are unfamiliar with a client’s culture and the music represented within that culture. Music therapists can improve therapeutic relationship and treatment outcomes by learning about their clients' cultural needs and music preferences, and by developing a multicultural repertoire.


Let's talk about... Systemic Racism

'Systematic racism' is a form of racism that exists in laws and regulations of society or organizations, and manifests as discrimination in criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, education and political representation. Many Americans experience systemic racism, patriarchy, homophobia, classism, and ableism in their day-to-day lives. Systemic racism has an impact on the music therapy profession and music, itself. Music therapists must learn how these factors influence their colleagues and clients' lives.


Let's talk about... Privilege

Did you know that a majority of music therapists identify as white and/or female? Additionally, obtaining a degree in music therapy is expensive and not everyone has equal opportunity to become a Board-Certified Music Therapist. In many cultures, being able to pursue a career in music is seen as a luxury. Lack of diversity and inclusion in music therapy can limit not only the amount of clients we can treat, but also the quality of our services.

Retrieved from the American Music Therapy Associate Member Survey and Workforce Analysis (2019)

Where do you exist on this wheel?

Retrieved from “Cultural Intersections in Music Therapy: Music, Health, and the Person
by Annette Whitehead-Plaeux and Xueli Tan

Unfortunately, music therapists can sometimes fall victim to bias, stereotyping, classism, racism, hetero-ism, ageism, ableism, etc. Increasing the awareness of our personal biases and privileges can help to diminish the negative effects bias has when working with colleagues and clients. Our personal biases for race, ethnicity, language, religion, social class, family experiences, sexual orientation, gender identity and social organizations can negatively impact our assessment and treatment process with clients. It’s important to acknowledge the biases and privilege that exists in the field of music therapy and the underrepresentation that exists within the field. To assess and explore your own biases, click here!


Let's talk about... What We Can Do

There are many actions we can take to become an effective allies to non-dominate groups:

- We can become self-aware of our own bias, privilege, and how our personal perspective of the world affects how we interact with colleagues and clients.

- We can listen to and uplift voices that aren’t heard in theory and research.

- We can read and engage with the texts of critical theory scholars and activists, such as feminist theory, disability studies, critical race theory, queer theory, and growing fields like transgender studies.

- We can start and join in critical discussions with colleagues about how we can make the profession more representative and affirming for members of marginalized and underrepresented groups.

- We can create and use culturally competent music therapy assessments.

- We can carry out culturally responsive research, including through collaborations with members of underrepresented groups in the field. We can insist upon anti-oppressive practice for marginalized clients.

- We can also create scholarship opportunities for minority music therapy students.

Expand your repertoire

Many of us view music as a universal language that brings people from various backgrounds together. However, too often many styles of music have been appropriated and stolen from minorities. Music therapists must understand the history behind the material we are using to heal others. If our repertories only include music from our own culture – how can we be effective clinicians to all of our clients? Educate yourself on songs that have been rooted in racism. For example, some songs to be mindful about are 'Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed,' 'Oh! Susanna,' and 'Dixieland' - all songs rooted in racism (retrieved from a Google document compiled by Lauren McDougal).

Client accessibility

Music therapists can provide services to clients from diverse backgrounds and status by offering sliding scale options, providing Telehealth services, billing through Medicare, or creating a prospective payment system. Music therapists can also explore the option of sending practicum students and interns to provide services to low-income clients. Additionally, music therapists can conduct market research in their communities, reach out to community centers to advocate for services for minorities, and write grants and program proposals.

Most importantly...

Be kind to yourself as you do this introspective and advocacy work. Practice patience, humility, and keep an open mind and heart as you continue to enhance the field of music therapy for colleagues and clients.

Resources for Clinicians

Resources for White Music Therapists to Become Anti-Racist:


2. Racial Bias Test (Harvard)




1. "Walking While Black" (Garnette Cadogan)


2. I’m Still Here (Austin Channing Brown)

3. Whistling Vivaldi (Claude Steel)

4. White Awake (Daniel Hill)

7. The Fire This Time by Jesmyn Ward

Mental Health Disparities: Diverse Populations (American Psychiatric Association)

Can Racism Cause PTSD? (Monnica T Williams Ph.D.)

Music Therapy and Cultural Diversity (Seung-A Kim Ph.D., L.C.A.T., MT-BC, Annette Whitehead-Pleaux)

***I am sharing this from the perspective of a white, cis-gendered woman who has had access to higher education to be able to pursue a music therapy degree. ***

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page