“Music therapy is the very definition of white privilege”: Music therapists’ perspectives on race and class in UK music therapy


  • Tamsin Mains Independent scholar, UK
  • Victoria Clarke University of the West of England, UK
  • Luke Annesley University of the West of England, UK




classism, middle-class, people of colour, qualitative survey, racism, thematic analysis, white fragility, white normativity, white privilege, working-class


The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020 following the death of George Floyd highlighted, once again, the racial and socioeconomic inequities permeating western countries, and galvanised music therapists in the UK and elsewhere to reflect on the importance of race and social class in their profession and therapeutic practice. These discussions have a longer history in the US; in the UK they are in their infancy. Building on the 2020 British Association of Music Therapy Diversity Report (Langford et al., 2020), this study aimed to contribute to the burgeoning discussion in UK music therapy by inviting trainee and qualified music therapists to reflect on how – often intersecting – racial and socioeconomic inequities impact on music therapy training and practice and what changes are needed for music therapy to become more relevant to and representative of minoritised communities. Data were generated using an online qualitative survey (N=28) and five follow-up telephone interviews, allowing for both breadth and depth in an area where there is a paucity of research, and a higher level of “felt anonymity” for a potentially sensitive and threatening topic. Reflexive thematic analysis informed by critical race theory was used to develop three themes from the data: 1) Posh white ladies: the typical music therapist; 2) White normativity and fragility in music therapy; and 3) Music therapy: undervalued and too costly. In the conclusion, we synthesise the participants’ accounts into recommendations for diversifying the music therapy profession in the UK.

Author Biographies

Tamsin Mains, Independent scholar, UK

Tamsin Mains (she/her, they/them) graduated with a MA in music therapy from the University of the West of England, Bristol, UK, in 2022. Her dissertation research on race and class in music therapy was supervised by Victoria Clarke. She currently works as a music therapist in neuropsychiatry, alongside providing specialist therapy and education for young people with complex needs. Tamsin also works as a freelance multi-instrumentalist performer, arranger, and session musician, with a passion for improvisation and electronic bassoon. [tazmains@gmail.com]

Victoria Clarke, University of the West of England, UK

Victoria Clarke (she/her, they/them) is an Associate Professor in Qualitative and Critical Psychology in the School of Social Sciences at the University of the West of England, Bristol, UK, where she teaches research methods to music therapy students and supervises MA music therapy dissertation projects. Her own research addresses issues of difference and social justice, and with Virginia Braun she has written extensively about thematic analysis – see www.thematicanalysis.net – including most recently Thematic Analysis: A Practical Guide (2022, Sage). [Victoria.Clarke@uwe.ac.uk]

Luke Annesley, University of the West of England, UK

Luke Annesley (he/him) is a jazz/improvising musician and a Senior Lecturer in Music Therapy in the School of Health and Social Care at the University of the West of England, Bristol, UK. He worked for 12 years in the National Health Service for Oxleas Music Therapy Service and has been published in several academic journals, including the British Journal of Music Therapy, Journal of Music Therapy and Approaches: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Music Therapy. He has hosted the British Association for Music Therapy podcast Music Therapy Conversations since 2017. [Luke.Annesley@uwe.ac.uk]