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Professor Helen Odell-Miller OBE

Emeritus Professor

Founding Director, Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research

Faculty of Arts, Humanities, Education and Social Sciences
Cambridge School of Creative Industries
Areas of Expertise:
Music therapy , Arts and health research , Arts Therapies
Research Supervision:

Helen is a clinician, researcher, supervisor and teacher, and supervises music therapy PhD students, in her role as Founding Director of the Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research.

[email protected]

Listen to an interview with Helen on BBC Sounds' The Evening Biography

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Helen is currently lead researcher for the international EU/Alzheimer’s Society UK funded multi-site research project, HOMESIDE, an RCT trial for home-based music therapy for people with dementia and their family carer.

For over forty years, Helen's research and clinical work has contributed to establishing music therapy as a profession – and specifically to innovating approaches in adult mental health, including early links between music therapy and psychoanalysis. She has published widely on music therapy for people with personality disorders, psychosis and depression, and also on arts therapies and mental health. She founded music therapy in the adult NHS mental health service in Cambridge and advises HEE England and the Department of Health on music therapy, serving on many national and international boards.

Here at ARU, Helen was co-founder of the MA Music Therapy degree.

Research interests
  • Music therapy and adult mental health
  • Music therapy and links with diagnosis in adult mental health
  • The relationship between musical improvisation, psychoanalysis, and music therapy
  • Voice work in music therapy
  • Arts therapies, especially links between music therapy and dramatherapy
  • Music therapy and dementia
  • Music therapy and personality disorder

As Head of Arts Therapies and therapy services for older peoples and adults, for many years in the NHS, she was also co-founder of the MA Music Therapy course at Anglia Ruskin University, in 1994. Helen has lectured widely, and has been a keynote speaker at many national and international conferences in Europe, Australia, Asia and the USA. She has worked with parliament and the government advising on music therapy. Most recently she was one of the Commissioners for the Music and Dementia Strategy in the UK, produced by the International Longevity Centre, and launched at the House of Lords, London, in January 2018: What would life be? Without a Song or Dance, What are We? She is co-editor and an author for the books Supervision of Music Therapy (Jessica Kingsley 2009), Forensic Music Therapy (Routledge 2013) and Collaboration and Assistance in Music Therapy Practice (2017). She has published widely in national and international peer reviewed journals and authored many book chapters. She is a pianist, violinist, and a singer in Cambridge Voices chamber choir.

Areas of research supervision
  • Music therapy and the relationship between referral and diagnosis in adult psychiatry
  • Music therapy and dementia, especially in the community for couples
  • Music therapy self- harm and personality disorder
  • Music therapy and neuro-disability
  • The professional practice of music therapy
  • PhD, Aalborg University, Denmark, 2003–2007 (awarded 2008). Awarded a European scholarship. The Practice of Music Therapy for Adults with Mental Health Problems: the Relationship Between Diagnosis and Clinical Method
  • MPhil Music Therapy, City University, London, 1989. Music Therapy and Dementia
  • LGSM Music Therapy, Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, 1977 
  • BA (Hons) Music University of Nottingham, 1976
Memberships, editorial boards
  • Member, Council for Allied Health Professions Research Strategic Board
  • Chair, British Association for Music Therapy Steering Group for Music Therapy and Dementia
  • Commissioner for Music and Dementia Commission for International Longevity Centre (2018)
  • Deputy Chair, The Music Therapy Charity
  • Board Member, International Consortium for Research in the Arts Therapies
  • Member, The International Consortium for Music Therapy Research
  • Editorial Board Member, The Nordic Journal of Music Therapy
  • Editorial Advisory Board Member, The British Journal of Music Therapy
Research grants, consultancy, knowledge exchange

HOMESIDE. Lead PI on HOMESIDE, an international research project involving family care givers and people with dementia. The University of Melbourne is the lead partner, together with four other universities in the UK, Germany, Poland and Norway. The UK arm of the study will test the effectiveness of a three-month home-based music programme and its capacity to reduce behavioural and psychological problems for people with dementia, using a primary outcome measure. Secondary outcomes will examine relationship quality between couples, depression, resilience, competence, and quality of life.

The Marbrook Centre partnership. Providing a range of one-to-one and group music therapy to residents experiencing neurodisability and dementia at the Marbrook Centre. Our approach is to work alongside and compliment other therapy disciplines, bringing leading-edge research in music therapy into patient care and helping to create a positive environment for social interaction.

Shell Shock. The Shell Shock theatre production is adapted from Shell Shock: The Diary of Tommy Atkins, a book by a combat veteran (Blower, 2011). The research team was key to evaluate the influence of a performance of Shell Shock on audience members. Firstly, whether the play made an impact on audience members. Secondly, whether the play could act as a catalyst for change in behaviour and attitude towards mental health problems in military personnel and veterans.

MHA partnership. Odell-Miller’s music therapy work has benefitted residents and produced demonstrable alterations in policy and the environment at Methodist Homes for the Aged (MHA). MHA is a well-established care provider for older people, delivering a range of high quality services to 16,000 individuals across Britain. Since Odell-Miller’s pioneering, controlled music therapy trial in residential settings, focusing on live music interaction with older people with dementia, MHA has changed its policy and care provision to offer music therapy to 1,500 of its clients. MHA has also recruited twelve qualified music therapists in the last five years to support this policy change.

TIME-A- 2014-2016. PA for research RCT international trial on music therapy for children with autistic spectrum disorder NIHR grant c£500,000 in collaboration with Imperial College London University and the University of Bergen.

Selected recent publications

Critchley, A., Dokter, D., Odell-Miller, H., Power, N. and  Sandford, S., 2019. Starting from Scratch: Co-production with dramatherapy in a Recovery College. Dramatherapy (research article), https://doi.org/10.1177/0263067219843442.

Baker, F.A., Bloska, J., Braat, S., Bukowska, A., Clark, I., Hsu, M.H., Kvamme, T., Lautenschlager, N., Lee, Y.C., Smrokowska-Reichmann, A., Sousa, T.V., Stensaeth, K.A., Tamplin, J., Wosch, T. and Odell-Miller, H., 2019. HOMESIDE: Home-based family caregiver-delivered music and reading interventions for people living with dementia: protocol of a randomised controlled trial. BMJ Open, 9(11), p.1-11.

Odell-Miller, H., Bloska, J., Browning, C. and Hannibal, N., 2019. Process and experience of change in the self-perception of women prisoners attending music therapy: The qualitative results of a mixed-methods exploratory study. Approaches [online]. Available at: http://approaches.gr/odell-miller-a20190805.

Gold, C., Eickholt, J., Assmus, J., Stige, B., Wake, J., Baker, F., Tamplin, J., Clark, I., Lee, C., Jacobsen, S., Ridder, H., Kreutz., Muthesius, D., Wosch. T., Ceccato, E., Raglio, A., Ruggeri. M., Vink. A., Zuidema, S., Odell-Miller, H., Orrell, M., Schneider, J., Kubiak, C., Romeo, R. and Geretsegger, M., 2019. Music Interventions for Dementia and Depression in Elderly care (MIDDEL): protocol and statistical analysis plan for a multinational cluster-randomised trial. BMJ Open, 2019;0:e023436. doi:10.1136 bmjopen-2018-023436.

Odell-Miller, H., 2018. Response to Justine Schneider’s article ‘Music therapy and dementia care practice in the United Kingdom: A British Association for Music Therapy membership survey’. British Journal of Music Therapy 2018, 32(2), pp70-73. DOI: 10.1177/1359457518805995.

Odell-Miller, H., Fachner, J. and Erkkila J., 2018. Music therapy clinical practice and research for people with depression: music, brain processing and music therapy. In V. Karkou and A. Zubala (Eds.) Arts therapies and the treatment of depression. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Odell-Miller, H., and Dokter, D., 2018. Past and current influences between music therapy and dramatherapy in collaborative training practice and research. In A. Oldfield and M. Carr (Eds.) Combining music therapy and dramatherapy: experiences, challenges and opportunities for collaboration in clinical and training contexts. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Odell-Miller, H., Ridder, H., Schmid, W. and Stige, B., 2017. Why and when is a qualified music therapist necessary? Inge Nygaard Pedersen (Eds). In Approaches: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Music Therapy Special feature 9 (1) 2017ISSN 2459-3338 pp9-56.

Bieleninik, L., Geretsegger, M., Mossler, K., Assmus, J., Thompson, G., Gattino, G., Elefant, C., Gottfried, T., Igliozzi., Muratori, F., Suvini, F., Kim, J., Crawford, M., Odell-Miller, H., Oldfield A., Casey, O., Finneman, J., Carpente, J., Park A-La., Grossi, E., and Gold, C., 2017. ‘Effects of improvisational music therapy vs standard care on symptom severity among children with autism spectrum disorder: The TIME-A randomized clinical trial’. Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) JAMA 2017: 318 (6); 525-535.DOI; 10.1001/jama. 2017.9478.

Street, A., Magee, W., Bateman, A., Parker, M., Odell-Miller, H. and Fachner, J., 2017. Home-based neurologic music therapy for arm hemiparesis following stroke: results from a pilot, feasibility randomized controlled trial. Clinical Rehabilitation, http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0269215517717060.

Strange, J.; Odell-Miller, H and Richards, E., 2017. Collaboration and assistance in music therapy practice: roles, relationships, challenges. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers (includes one sole authored chapter by Odell-Miller and other jointly authored).

Odell-Miller, H., 2016. The role, function and identity of music therapists in the 21st century, including new research and thinking from a UK perspective British Journal of Music Therapy, 30(1), pp5-12 DOI: 10.1177/1359457516639549.

Gavrielidou, M and Odell-Miller, H., (2016) 'An Investigation of Pivotal Moments in Music Therapy in Adult Mental Health'. The Arts in Psychotherapy.

Odell-Miller, H., 2016. The Future of Music Therapy in Forensic and Criminal Justice Settings. In C. Dileo (ed). Envisioning the future of music therapy. USA: Temple University Publications.

Odell-Miller, H., 2016. Music therapy for people with a diagnosis of personality disorder: considerations of thinking and feeling. In J.Edwards (ed). The Oxford Textbook for Music Therapy. Oxford: OUP.

Ettenberger, M., Cárdenas, C., Parker, M. and Odell-Miller, H. (2016) Family-centred music therapy with preterm infants and their parents in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Colombia – A mixed-methods study Nordic Journal of Music Therapy pp. 1-28 | DOI: 10.1080/08098131.2016.1205650.

Strange, J.; Odell-Miller, H and Richards, E., 2016. Collaboration and assistance in music therapy practice: roles, relationships, challenges. London: JKP (includes 1 sole authored chapter by Odell-Miller and other jointly authored).

Hsu, M. H., Flowerdew, R., Parker, M., Fachner, J. and Odell-Miller, H., 2015. The impact of music therapy on managing neuropsychiatric symptoms for people with dementia and their carers: a randomised controlled feasibility study. BMC Geriatrics. 15:84 doi:10.1186/s12877-015-0082-4.

Street., A. J., Magee., W. L., Odell-Miller, H., Bateman, A. and Fachner, J., 2015. Home-based Neurologic Music Therapy for Upper Limb Rehabilitation with Chronic Hemiparetic Stroke Patients - a Feasibility Study Protocol. Frontiers of Human Neuroscience.

Odell-Miller, H., 2014. The development of clinical music therapy in post-war Britain as a profession in mental health practice: music, health and therapy’ in S. Goodman and V. Bates (eds.) Medicine, health and the arts in post war Britain. London: Routledge.

Ettenberger, M., Odell-Miller, H., Rojas, C., Serrano S., Parker, M. and Llanos S., 2014. Music therapy with premature infants and their caregivers in Columbia-a mixed methods pilot study including a randomized trial. Voices, 14(2) 2014.

Carr, C., Odell-Miller, H. and Priebe, S., 2013. A systematic review of music therapy practice and outcomes with acute adult psychiatric in-patients. Plos One Journal.

Compton Dickinson, S., Odell-Miller, H. and Adlam, J., 2013. Forensic Music Therapy. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers (including two chapters by Odell-Miller).

Moules, T., Clarke, S. and Odell-Miller, H., 2012. Review and analysis of service evaluation: pilot evaluation tool for music therapy for children in palliative care. BJMT, in press. Expected date Dec 2012.

Shipley, A. and Odell-Miller, H., 2012. The Role of Music Therapy for Anxious Adolescent School Refusers: Identity and the Self. British Journal of Music Therapy.

Pool, J. and Odell-Miller, H., 2011. Aggression in music therapy and its role in creativity with reference to personality disorder. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 38, pp169-177.

Odell-Miller, H., 2011. Introduction to Music Therapy and Psychiatry. Online module published by The Royal College of Psychiatrists, June 2011 (peer reviewed).

Odell-Miller, H., 2011. Value of Music Therapy for people with personality disorders. Mental Health Practice, 14(10).

Contributor to public policy

2018: Odell-Miller was one of the Commissioners for the House of Lords commission on Music and Dementia. Met four times in House of Lords during sabbatical period. Launch of document Jan 18th 2018 which Odell-Miller contributed to, and the CIMTR research is mentioned several times, including Hsu et al article, Saffron Walden project ‘Together in Sound’ and PhD student Biljana Vrancic Coutinho’s research.

Publication reference Bowler, S., and Bamber, S., 2018. What would life be - without a song or dance, what are we?: Commission in House of Lords on Music and Dementia sponsored by the Utley Foundation London: International Longevity Centre.

Recent presentations and conferences

July 2018 Keele University, Keynote at the National Cognitive Analytic Therapy Conference

June 2018 University of Cambridge, Centre for Music and Science, Music, Selves and
Societies: the roles of music in effecting change

April 2018 International Music Therapy Consortium public conference, Temple University, Philadelphia, USA, ‘Improvisation behind bars’

December 2018- Birkbeck University Psychedelics, Music and Meaning. The Weekend University

April 2018 Invited keynote speaker Melbourne Brain Centre in collaboration with University of Melbourne Australia, University of Melbourne Australia, at International Symposium ‘Music interventions for dementia and depression in elderly care’, Paper: ‘Music therapy and dementia: research and clinical practice in 21st century.’ Guest consultant on PhD seminar 2 day event 

February 2018 BAMT (British Association of Music Therapy), Barbican, London, “Together in Sound: Music therapy for people with dementia and their carers in a community setting linked to a concert hall”

November 2017 Keynote - Wellcome Trust Expert Seminar on Music and Dementia in collaboration with Creative Dementia Arts Network and MHA, ‘Music and dementia: research, practice and professional education’

November 2017 Keynote - National Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Liaison Psychiatry CPD event, Genome Campus, Cambridge University, ‘Clinical and research advances in music therapy’

November 2017 Cambridge Jazz Festival, ‘Improvisation and music therapy’

September 2017 5th International Conference on multi-disciplinarity, neuroscience and dementia care in music therapy, ‘When and why is a qualified music therapist needed for people with dementia’

Media experience

National and local radio, including:
The Evening Biography - Professor Helen Odell-Miller OBE, 10 January 2022
Radio Cambridge, 17 July 2018: The Music of My Life: this included discussion of research including links to personal life and choices of music.

Report on dementia research in the Daily Mail, 27 July 2016

A Day in the Life of... Guardian, 26 June 2015