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Music therapy pioneer receives national honour

Published: 24 May 2024 at 14:29

Professor Emeritus Helen Odell-Miller OBE

Lifetime Achievement Award for Helen Odell-Miller, Professor Emeritus at ARU

Professor Emeritus Helen Odell-Miller OBE has been honoured by the British Association for Music Therapy for her remarkable achievements in establishing music therapy in the UK. 

Helen, who was the Founding Director of the Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) before stepping down last summer, received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the British Association for Music Therapy’s annual conference.

Helen’s first music therapy role was in Cambridge in 1977, where she was responsible for developing a new music therapy service for children and adults with learning disabilities at the Ida Darwin Hospital at Fulbourn. Early on, she moved to work with adults, young people and children with mental health issues in the NHS, and pioneered music therapy approaches drawing on psychotherapy fields.

Over the following 47 years Helen became internationally known as a clinician, trainer, researcher, and tireless advocate for the profession. At ARU she has written countless books and journal articles, delivered 22 keynote speeches and supervised 29 PhDs.

As well as being instrumental in leading the development of music therapy as a profession within the NHS, Helen was one of the co-founders of the European Music Therapy Confederation in 1990, and helped to establish the UK’s first Master’s qualification in Music Therapy at Anglia Ruskin in 1994.

Helen was also the Founding Director of ARU’s Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research (CIMTR), which now has a team of 30 researchers, including PhD students, and is one of the largest and most influential research units of its kind in the world.

She helped to introduce changes to the NICE guidelines for dementia in 2019, which recommended music therapy for people with dementia for the first time, and in 2021 ARU received the Queen’s Anniversary Prize – the highest national honour awarded in UK higher and further education – for research into music therapy for people with dementia, which was led by Helen.

Helen was awarded the Order of the British Empire for services to music therapy in 2016, and alongside her Professor Emeritus role at ARU, she continues as the Chair of The Music Therapy Charity.

Helen said:

“I am honoured to receive this award, for which I thank every music therapy participant, colleague, trainee, friend and family member, without whom, none of these achievements would have been possible. Music therapy is developing quickly in the modern world, and particularly in the UK, led by the British Association for Music Therapy.”

Eleanor Tingle, British Association for Music Therapy Chair, said:

“The British Association for Music Therapy is delighted to present the Lifetime Achievement Award to Professor Odell-Miller in recognition of her extraordinary work for Music Therapy over a long and distinguished professional career.”


Professor Sean Campbell, Deputy Dean (Research & Innovation) in ARU's Faculty of Arts, Humanities, Education & Social Sciences said:

“Helen has made a truly significant contribution to the music therapy profession during her illustrious career. We are incredibly proud of everything Helen has done as Founding Director of the Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research and I’d like to congratulate her on this tremendous honour.”