Growth and identity of music therapy in the NICU: Pioneering perspectives




This duoethnographic exploration expounds on the journeys of two women who pioneered music therapy in the NICUs in their respective countries. The dialogue uses their practice wisdom and research to illuminate core issues that have served the development of music as process and intervention for infants, families and those in the context of the NICU. They conclude with recommendations for the future.

Monika Nöcker-Ribaupierre (MNR): I was a musician and I worked in the theatre. The premature birth of my daughter in the 1970s, experiencing my own helplessness and that of my family and friends, all of this led my life in an unexpected new direction: to music therapy in the NICU. My overall goal was to promote both the infant’s development in connection with support of the mother’s resilience – because there is no development without bonding. Next step was to open NICUs in my country to music therapy, also to strengthen our NICU music therapists and helping to develop an international network. Throughout all these years Helen Shoemark has been my most important and valuable colleague.

Helen Shoemark (HS): I was a music therapist working in special education and early intervention for 15 years before. I started the program in the NICU at the Royal Children’s Hospital in 1994, and grew the role of music therapy in the pediatric NICU/ Newborn Surgical Unit through my research. Because of my experience in family-centered early intervention, my focus in the NICU is on supporting the expressive capacities of both infant and parents. My other focus is in supporting clinicians develop programs that are ecologically situated, theoretically- informed, and pragmatically realistic. Monika Nöcker-Ribaupierre was one of my earliest mentors, and I have always been inspired by the strength of her commitment, understanding, and support for the experience of the mothers in the NICU.

Author Biographies

Helen Shoemark, Temple University

Helen Shoemark is Associate Professor of Music Therapy at Temple University, Philadelphia, & Snr Research Fellow in the Dept Paediatrics, University of Melbourne. Her current research is in team-based program development for creative arts therapies in acute health settings. She is known internationally as a pioneer in the research and practice of music therapy in pediatric NICU.

Monika Nöcker-Ribaupierre,, Freies Musikzentrum

Monika Nöcker-Ribaupierre, musician and music therapist, is Vice President ISMM, scientific and honorary member of numerous organisations. She was Vice-President of the EMTC, leader of the Music Therapy Training and head of Freies Musikzentrum in Munich. She is known internationally as a pioneer of music therapy in Neonatal Care.


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