Process and Experience of Change in the Self-perception of Women Prisoners Attending Music Therapy: The Qualitative Results of a Mixed-methods Exploratory Study









First Page



Women form a minority (4.8%) in the UK prison system, which is predominantly designed for men. A high number of women prisoners bring experiences of trauma and abuse with them into the system. The incidence of mental health problems is inordinately high compared to the general population. Whilst an increasing number of UK music therapists work in forensic psychiatry, providing treatment for mental disordered offenders, there is a dearth of music therapists working in UK prisons. There is correspondingly little research into music therapy and women prisoners. The current article presents the qualitative results of a mixed-methods doctoral study carried out by Dr Helen Leith (2014). Using qualitative data, the study investigates whether there is a change in the self-perception of women prisoners attending music therapy and whether, if this is the case, they show an improved ability to engage with prison resettlement interventions. Findings for 10 participants indicated that women prisoners attending music therapy experience a change in self-perception and engagement in music therapy translated into behavioural change outside the music therapy room. Through adaptive interpretative phenomenological analysis of semi-structured interviews, themes indicated that participants showed an increase in self-confidence, self-esteem, self-efficacy, achievement motivation and a number of other areas relevant to successful resettlement. There was a reduction in the number of self-harm or behavioural incidences and attendance of other programmes improved. For severely disaffected prisoners, music therapy provided an appealing and motivating intervention, which served as an entry point to other programmes required for resettlement. Women prisoners not only showed an enhanced ability to attend the programmes required for their successful resettlement; music therapy created aspirations, which is of significance to downstream outcomes.

Music and Health Institute Terms

Abuse; Engagement Level; Gender Disparities; Interviews; Mental Health; Music Therapy; Prisoners; Self-Concept; Self-Efficacy; Trauma

Indexed Terms

Prisoners; Women; Trauma; Mental health; United Kingdom

Study Type

Mixed Methods


Music Therapy

PubMed ID


Document Type


This document is currently not available here.