Prof. Brynjulf Stige: “Music as any other resource, can be misused”

Brynjulf Stige, Professor in Music Therapy, University of Bergen (Norway) visited Vilnius University Faculty of Medicine in January, 2018. The main purpose of the visit was open lectures in the new program in music therapy, also discussions about how to develop Music Therapy discipline and profession in the future. Short interview with Prof. Brynjulf Stige about Lithuanian winters and music's future.

Dear Professor, you have come from Norway, is this your first time in Vilnius? How do you like Lithuanian winter?

Well, it’s the fifth time. I’ve had the privilege to be in contact with the Lithuanian pioneers of music therapy since they formed their association in 1997.

I like winters. It’s not too different from Norwegian winter: Some days are white and beautiful and cold enough, but unfortunately the climate has changed and there are more than enough of grey and rainy days too.

What is your impression about the Lithuanians?

You’re not all the same, of course, but many of you seem to be strong and stubborn people with stamina. I like that.

Could you briefly tell about your activities (what you do?) at the University of Bergen?

I have three different roles. First, I am one of the professors in our five years integrated MA program of music therapy, and also involved in research and PhD supervision at the university, of course. Second, I am head of GAMUT – The Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Centre, which is a twin centre that the university owns together with Norce – Norwegian Research Centre (previously Uni Research). Third, I am also coordinating a knowledge cluster called POLYFON, which enables us to enhance research-informed service development as well as practice-oriented research in music therapy, in collaboration with leaders, professionals, and service users in the health care system.

What are the main areas of your scientific interest?

Personally, I am especially interested in theory development, in qualitative studies of user experiences, and in community music therapy. As a research leader, I am of course involved in supporting the development of the whole gamut of research that the discipline and profession needs, from arts-based research to qualitative studies to RCTs and meta-analyses. I really enjoy being involved in such diversity of research practices.

What is the main purpose of your arrival to Vilnius and what did you expect from Lithuanian audiences? Were your expectations justified?

I’ve been invited to give open lectures in the new MA program in music therapy here, where I have presented on themes such as music therapy research and community music therapy, and on different specialized areas of clinical practice, such as e.g. mental health, substance use treatment, and older adult health. Also, I have been asked to present and discuss ideas about how to develop the discipline and profession in the future. As expected, I have had some really interesting days here. The audience was interdisciplinary – with artists, music therapists, medical doctors, psychologists, epidemiologists, and so on – and the discussions were thought-provoking and inspiring.

How do you see the perspective/ future of music therapy in the context of the overall healthcare sector/ system?

In my own country, and in many other countries too, there has been an immense increase in interest and support the past few years. The national health authorities in Norway have started to recommend music therapy in various national guidelines for treatment, for instance music therapy in the treatment of psychosis and in substance abuse treatment. There seems to be two difference reasons why this is happening. First, Cochrane reviews and other meta-analyses demonstrate that music therapy can be an effective intervention, for instance in the treatment of negative symptoms in psychosis. Second, qualitative research and clinical experience demonstrate that service users find music therapy motivating and meaningful, and that music therapy can contribute to rights-based practice where users have a strong voice in the development of their own treatment. So, I think the future of music therapy is quite promising, at least if we’re able to keep up the good work that builds upon the possibilities. I hope the Faculty of Medicine at Vilnius University sees this and finds ways of supporting the pioneering efforts made here in building a new MA in music therapy, in collaboration with the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre. To establish the MA was a great step. To build better conditions for research and service development seems to be the next steps that will build the discipline and profession in Lithuania.

Question for the end of the interview: is music going to save the world?

Hehe. Music is a rich resource for personal and social change, and a resource that we could use much more and much more effectively. But, as with any other resource, it can be misused too. Music has been part of warfare for centuries, and unfortunately, sometimes it is used for torture and manipulation of people as well. So, even though positive usages and positive experiences dominate when it comes to music, there are two sides to the coin. Also, while we sing, money talks or perhaps even swears, as Dylan put it in one of his songs. If we want to save the world, which sounds like a good idea to me, I think we need a few more tools than music.


Thank you for your time and pleasant talk!

Lina Kocienė