Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Attachment theory and music therapy: What was the relevance of attachment theory to a student’s music therapy programme for ‘at-risk’ mothers and their babies?

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posted on 2021-11-14, 08:16 authored by Ridley, Helen

This qualitative secondary analysis research project sought to explore the relevance of attachment theory as it might apply to a music therapy programme set up and run within a residential service for ‘at risk’ mothers and their babies. The explicit purpose of the music therapy programme was to assist the mothers in bonding with their babies. The researcher was a student music therapist on placement at the facility, involved in weekly one-to-one sessions with a total of nineteen young women and their babies, over the time that each was resident at the facility. The music therapist also ran some weekly group sessions (mothers with babies) as part of the facility’s mandatory education programme. The music therapy programme took place over twenty-two weeks, with a two week break after the first ten weeks. The research analysis commenced on completion of the programme. Thematic analysis was used to look at two types of data; data from the placement (including clinical notes and personal reflective journal), and literature on attachment theory. There was an initial review of selected literature on attachment theory and music therapy. The researcher/student music therapist then carried out an inductive qualitative secondary analysis of the data that had been generated as a standard part of her practice over the period of the student placement. This was followed by a further examination of attachment theory literature to confirm key aspects of the theory. The findings from the inductive analysis were then looked at in the light of those identified key features of attachment theory. The research findings showed many strong links between key concepts of attachment theory, and the patterns that emerged from the placement data, manifesting on a number of different levels. However some patterns might be more usefully explained and/or elucidated by other theories. Findings suggested that attachment theory provided a useful framework and language for observing and understanding the interactive behaviours and external and personal structures that appeared to work for or against mother-infant bonding. In addition, the music therapy programme seemed a particularly suitable vehicle for promoting positive mother-infant bonding. However it was found that although the music therapy programme may have been helpful in a positive mother-infant bonding process, there was no evidence to suggest that this would necessarily extend to promoting a secure attachment relationship, given the personal, structural and legal factors associated with the high ‘at-risk’ context. An attachment-based music therapy programme may well have a more useful role to play in a lower risk context where mothers and babies remained for longer in the facility, and where the programme could continue throughout the women’s transition into the community and beyond.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Music Therapy

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Music Therapy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970119 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of the Creative Arts and Writing

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


Hoskyns, Sarah