Music therapy was noninferior to verbal standard treatment of traumatized refugees in mental health care: Results from a randomized clinical trial

Bolette Daniels Beck, Steen Meyer, Erik Simonsen, Ulf Søgaard, Inge Petersen, Sidse Marie Arnfred, Thomas Tellier, Torben Moe

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Background: Many people with refugee backgrounds suffer from trauma-related complex social and psychological problems, and compliance with standard psychological treatment tends to be low. More culturally adaptable treatment options seem to be needed.
Objective: We aimed to investigate whether the music therapy method: ‘trauma-focused music and imagery’ (tr-MI), characterized by a particular focus on arousal and affect regulation, would be equally effective as the standard psychological talk therapies for ameliorating trauma symptoms in Danish refugees.
Methods: A pragmatic, noninferiority, parallel, randomized controlled trial with six-month follow-up was carried out at three clinics for refugees in the public mental health services of the Psychiatry (DK). Seventy-four adults diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were allocated to either music therapy sessions (tr-MI, N = 39) or psychological treatment as usual (TAU, N = 35). Western classical music, new age music, and music from the participants’ own national culture were used to generate inner imagery, following a phased treatment protocol. Homework entailed listening to music. The primary outcome was the measurement of trauma symptoms by the Harvard Trauma Questionnaire, section IV (HTQ-IV); secondary measures were somatoform and psychoform dissociation (DSS-20), SDQ-20), attachment (RAAS), and well-being (WHO-5). Treatment effects reflected by primary and secondary measures were estimated using linear mixed models.
Results: Tr-MI was noninferior to TAU (mean difference at follow-up HTQ-IV: 0.14, CI (−0.10; 0.38), with a − 0.3 noninferiority margin). A high dropout rate of 40% occurred in the TAU group, compared to 5% in the music therapy group. Secondary measures generated small to medium effect sizes in both groups, with significant medium effect sizes for well-being and psychoform dissociation at follow-up in tr-MI.
Conclusions: Tr-MI is an innovative form of psychological treatment in refugee mental health services. Trials comparing music therapy to standardized therapy are needed to substantiate the evidence base for tr-MI therapy.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1930960
JournalEuropean Journal of Psychotraumatology
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

© 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • refugee
  • trauma
  • dissociation
  • attachment
  • non-inferiority
  • music therapy
  • Guided Imagery and Music


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