Repetition in music therapy

Project leader:
Kjersti Johansson

Project period:
2013 – 2017

Research centre:


Music therapy

Fellowship project
Ph.D. in Music Therapy

Kjersti Johansson's project explores the phenomenon of repetition in individual music therapy.

At the heart of the project lies a belief that there is something meaningful about repetition across different music therapy contexts, and a special interest is taken in possible relational functions of repetition, as well as possible existential layers of meaning. In short: Why do we repeat?

The practice of music therapy is abundant with repetitions – in musical expressions, bodily actions, verbal phrases, and in the structure of therapy sessions. Repetitions may take place within a single session, or they may span over longer periods. Repetitions may also be understood in quite different ways: in a positive understanding, repetition is associated with concepts of safety, such as predictability and stability. In a negative understanding, it may be linked to compulsive behaviours or feelings of boredom. An understanding of repetition should be central to music therapy, and yet, in the discipline of music therapy, the phenomenon of repetition is seldom described in depth. There seems to be a need to elaborate, nuance, and verbalize our understanding of this central phenomenon, and this is the primary objective of this PhD project.

In the research project, repetition is explored across various contexts, in a qualitative instrumental multiple case study, though a strict replication logic is not followed in the procedures for data collection, case selection and analysis. The study consists of three cases and includes music therapy with a child with autism, music therapy with an elderly person with dementia and music therapy with an adult with a schizophrenia-like disorder. The empirical material comprises video recordings of music therapy sessions and interviews with the music therapists involved. Each case is analyzed separately, and the study concludes with a cross-case analysis.

The video material for each case consists of recordings of three music therapy sessions. Shorter sequences are selected from the videos as examples of different types of repetition within each case, and diversity and variety are sought among the examples chosen. These sequences are described in detail and analyzed in depth. In each case, the video analysis is followed by an interview with the music therapist involved. The interviews utilize the selected video sequences to stimulate the conversation and the music therapists' descriptions and interpretations of repetitions in music therapy. These interviews complement, nuance and sometimes correct the initial video analysis. In addition, they are analyzed separately.

Project leader


Kjersti Johansson

Post Doctor
Music Education and Music Therapy Department

Last updated: 30. January 2015