What follows is an account of music therapy in Iceland written for the Nordic Journal of Music Therapy in 1994, and a short addendum written eight years later. As was foreseen developments have been slow although some of the goals set for the profession in 1994 have become realized. To gain wider recognition and to support our campaign for an official licensure to practice from the Ministry of Health, the profession needs more practising music therapists, particularly within the health care system. Furthermore we must belief in the importance of our work for human well-being.
Reading about music therapy in the other Nordic countries and scanning through Cheryl Maranto's book, Music Therapy International Perspectives makes Iceland look underdeveloped with regard to music therapy practice. Today, seven Icelanders have degrees in music therapy. These degrees have been acquired from five different schools: the Hochschule für Music und Darstellende Kunst, Vienna; the Capilano College, Vancouver; the University of Kansas, Lawrence; the Aalborg University , Aalborg; and the Østlandets Musikkonservatorium (later The Norwegian Academy of Music), Oslo. For the past twenty-four years, only one or two of these have been practicing at any given time; and although small private conquests have been made, no actual developments have occurred. The state of music therapy in Iceland could thus be described as prolonged infancy.
Music therapy was first introduced by Mr. Eyjòlfur Melsted in 1970. He graduated from the Hochschule für Music und Darstellende Kunst in Vienna, Austria and practiced music therapy at Kòpavogshælid, a residential institution for the severely disabled from l970 to 1973; and at Safamyrarskòli, a special school for the disabled from 1983 to 1987. At present he is practicing in Austria and his pioneering work is not known to this author in any detail.
Despite the fact that a music therapy association has not yet been formed and no professional journal is published, music therapy has been introduced to health care professionals and the general public through personal endeavors. In 1986 an introductory newsletter on music therapy was distributed and articles on music therapy have been printed in newspapers, magazines and various professional journals. A couple of radio programs on music therapy have also been broadcasted by the National Broadcasting Service. Besides workshops and lectures given at various institutions, schools and associations every year, Icelanders have had the opportunity to attend seminars and experiential workshops given by Mr. Claus Bang from Denmark, Mr. Joseph Moreno from the U.S.A. and the founder of the Drake Research Project, Ms. Adele Drake and her associates from England. Music therapy is thus relatively well known to parents associations and various health care professionals, contrary to what might be expected.
It is difficult to foresee when a music therapy training program on a university level will be established here in Iceland. However, one can regard the intensive introductory course on music therapy and music psychology, taught every other year at the Reykjavik College of Music, as an important step in that direction.
Music therapy is not a recognized profession within the National Health Service, the Social Service or the Educational System, and has not been granted an official approval. Practicing music therapists are not licensed and there is no designated music therapy positions within the social infrastructure. Music therapists have, however, been employed by the State. They have occupied teachers positions or been hired as contractors and have had considerable freedom to shape their music therapy practice.
Music therapists have worked in residential institutions for the severely disabled and in special schools with the same population. The School for the Deaf has hired a music therapist in the past. In 1987 the Reykjavik Children's Music School established a department to serve handicapped children. This department works in collaboration with Tonstofa Valgerdar, a private music therapy practice. Students receive either music therapy or music education with emphasis on music appreciation. The State Child Psychiatric Hospital has paid for music therapy services on an hourly basis since 1987. Although limited in scope, music therapy serves an assessment function in the interdisciplinary team at this hospital. Tonstofa Valgerdar was established in 1986. This private practice serves 30 to 40 clients a week, who receive long-term individual therapy. The clients' ages vary, as do their disabilities.
Wherever music therapy has been introduced as a treatment modality, it has been met with respect and interest. Music therapy practice has also been appreciated and regarded as a viable form of therapy by parents, caretakers and health care professionals.
Today, one can obviously not talk about an Icelandic "school" of music therapy. However, in the future, music therapy in Iceland will undoubtedly reflect the different backgrounds, schooling and experiences of the pioneers in this field. Practices will be eclectic in nature and characterized by a variety of opinions, methods, techniques and philosophies without any single one prevailing. It is hoped that such a diversity will be beneficial to the development of the profession and not a hindrance. In general, people in the helping professions, such as psychologists, psychiatrists, speech, occupational and physical therapists, many social workers and special teachers, to name a few, travel abroad to further their education or specialization. These specialists have gone to the United States, to Scandinavia and Europe; their education and theoretical orientations is thus varied like the music therapists'. Undoubtedly, this broad perspective has been beneficial for the practice of music therapy here.
The core of music therapy work is carried out in the above mentioned private practice where individuals of different ages and with different problems, such as: mental retardation, learning disabilities, multiple handicaps, psychiatric disorders, social, emotional and behavioral problems, sensory impairments, communication disorders, physical and orthopedic handicaps, neurological impairments, life threatening diseases, and other disabling conditions benefit from the power of music and the relationships developed through it.
Serving individuals who vary so greatly in their functional abilities, experiences, needs and strengths, has called for a comprehensive approach to music therapy; an approach that is eclectic in nature, rooted in many different treatment theories and methodologies. An active vocal, instrumental, and movement improvisation is used, in conjunction with a variety of structures, musical and non-musical tasks, such as listening, performing, composing, movement, dance, play, art, and story-telling.
Icelandic music therapy has the possibilities of growing in scope and recognition, but developments will probably be slow as hitherto. An idea has emerged, whether it would be beneficial for the development and future of music therapy, to organize an association for interested professionals; an association similar to the DFMT in Denmark. Another idea has been to form an association in collaboration with the Icelandic art therapists. Like the music therapists, they have pursued their education abroad. Their difference in education, experiences and opinions is believed to have hitherto hindered the formation of an art therapy association. In many ways, a collaboration could thus possibly be beneficial for both the professions.
If music therapy in Iceland is to develop in the near future and not merely be maintained as it is, the following goals must be realized:
Dear colleagues, if you have a suggestion or an advice to give, for example on the formation of an organization, please take the time to volunteer your advice.
For a more detailed account of music therapy in Iceland see Jònsdòttir, Valgerdur (1993). Music Therapy in Iceland. In: Cheryl D. Maranto (ed.) Music Therapy. International Perspectives. Jeffrey Books. Pipesville, Pennsylvania.
Neither suggestions nor advices were received from colleges abroad. However, in 1997 three music therapists staying in Iceland at that time, managed to form the Icelandic music therapy association (Físmús). The association is presently working towards the second goal mentioned above, that is, gaining an official approval and recognition from the Ministry of Health. This process started two years ago and has yet led us nowhere despite phone calls, e-mails, meetings, official letters, and information packages (introducing music therapy, our education, our practices, the status in other countries, etc.). In fact, we have not even received an official letter from the ministry acknowledging our request. In the year 2001 Físmús and the Icelandic art therapy association decided to join forces in this campaign. Musicking together last winter we also decided to form a coallision of the fine art therapies (an umbarella association). It is believed that such an organisation will be instrumental in making our presence felt stronger and also in providing support on both personal and professional level.
Presently Físmús is also working towards the third goal, the development of a code of ethics and standards for professional registration. The intention is to finish this work next winter. An Icelandic music therapy educational/training program comparable to those in the other Nordic countries has not been developed. If at all feasible for such a small nation (approx. 270.000- 280.000 inhabitants), it will be an exciting task for the second or third generation of Icelandic music therapists. As mentioned before, those interested in music therapy seek their education in different countries and this variability has hitherto only been regarded advantageous for our profession. In 1994 there were seven Icelanders with a degree in music therapy. Today, and to the best of knowledge, we are eleven and at least three more are presently studying music therapy. Despite this increase in number only five music therapists are living in Iceland when this is written and only two will be working fulltime as music therapists starting next fall. This has made the realization of the fifth goal from 1994, i.e. the initiation of music therapy practice into new clinical areas, slow and difficult.
Two new research projects one undertaken by an Icelandic master student graduating from Aalborg university in Denmark and another one by a music therapist finishing her doctoral degree in psychology from University of Leicestes in England have already been instrumental in introducing music therapy to a broader range of health care professionals. Whether these research projects will develop into new music therapy practices has however yet to be seen. Information about these projects can be obtained directly from the authors:
Closer professional contact with colleagues in other countries was the last goal on the list from 1994. This goal has become realized both through personal contacts developed in relation to our education and also through sharing of information on the world wide web. The increase in number and availability of interesting books on music therapy has also made a difference for us islanders. In our campaign for recognition organizations like the World Federation of Music Therapy Incorporated and the European Music Therapy Confederation will undoubtedly be instrumental.
What the future holds is difficult to foresee but unless more music therapists become practitioners, music therapy in Iceland will develop with the snail's speed as hitherto. If we make use of advancements in other countries and new research findings, maintain professional relationships with colleagues, and build our self-esteem and identity as knowledgeable professionals with an important and a unique medium our future will be bright and exciting.
Jonsdottir, Valgerdur (2002). Music Therapy in Iceland. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=country/monthiceland_aug2002