The Use of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in Music Therapy: A Sequential Explanatory Study

Carolyn M. Chwalek
Cathy H. McKinney


Background: There are published examples of how dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and music therapy are effectively being used as separate therapies in the treatment of individuals with a variety of mental health disorders. However, research examining DBT-informed music therapy is limited. Objective: The purpose of this study was to determine whether music therapists working in mental health settings are implementing components of DBT in their work, and if so, how and why; and if not, why not and what is their level of interest in such work. Methods: We used a sequential explanatory mixed-methods research design implemented in two phases. Phase 1 was a quantitative survey of board-certified music therapists (n = 260). Due to a low survey response rate (18%), and to enhance the validity of the findings, Phase 2, an embedded qualitative procedure in the form of interviews with clinicians experienced in the DBT approach, was added to the study. Both survey and interviews inquired about DBT training, use of DBT-informed music therapy, music therapy experiences used to address DBT skills, and experiences of implementing DBT-informed music therapy. Results: Respondents indicating they implement DBT-informed music therapy (38.3%) are using components and adaptations of the standard DBT protocol. Advantages of implementing DBT-informed music therapy were identified, and more than half of the respondents who do not implement DBT in their music therapy practice also perceived this work as at least somewhat important. Disadvantages were also identified and support the need for further research. Conclusions: Components of DBT are used in music therapy and are valued, but there is a lack of empirical evidence to inform, refine, and guide practice. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2017 APA, all rights reserved)