The need for robust critique of arts and health research: An examination of the Goldbeck and Ellerkamp (2012) randomised controlled trial of music therapy for anxiety in children, and its treatment in four systematic reviews — Clift, Grebosz-Haring, Thun-Hohenstein, Schuchter-Wiegand & Bathke

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The need for robust critique of arts and health research: An examination of the Goldbeck and Ellerkamp (2012) randomised controlled trial of music therapy for anxiety in children, and its treatment in four systematic reviews

Stephen Clift, Katarzyna Grebosz-Haring, Leonhard Thun-Hohenstein, Anna Katharina Schuchter-Wiegand & Arne C. Bathke


We describe work-in-progress to conduct a systematic review of research on the effects of arts-based programmes for mental health in young people. We have searched for relevant studies through major databases and screened extant systematic reviews for additional research which meets our inclusion criteria. We have reservations, however, regarding both the quality of existing primary studies and of recently published systematic reviews in this area of arts and health. In a previous paper (Grebosz-Haring et al., 2022), we focused on a randomised controlled trial (RCT) on art therapy for adolescent girls with ‘internalising’ and ‘externalising’ problems, and its inclusion in three systematic reviews, and expressed concerns. In this paper, we extend the scope of our critical scrutiny to a research paper on music therapy with children described as having anxiety disorders (Goldbeck & Ellerkamp, 2012), and its treatment in four recent systematic reviews / meta-analyses (Ponomarenko et al., 2017; Cohen-Yatziv & Regev, 2019; Bosgraf et al., 2020). We demonstrate limitations in the Goldbeck and Ellerkamp study which undermine the conclusion they reach on the effectiveness of music therapy in the remission of anxiety disorders. We also show that the reviews are not sufficiently critical and make errors in the treatment of Goldbeck and Ellerkamp’s research, which cast doubts on their dependability. Finally, we reflect on the lessons learned from our critique and draw some positive recommendations for future research and the conduct of reviews.


music therapy, children, anxiety, systematic review, meta-analysis, critique


Stephen Clift is Professor Emeritus, Canterbury Christ Church University, and former Director of the Sidney De Haan Research Centre for Arts and Health. He is a Professorial Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) and is Visiting Professor in the International Centre for Community Music, York St John University, and the School of Music, University of Leeds. Since 2000 he has pursued research in arts and heath and particularly the potential value of group singing for health and wellbeing. Stephen was one of the founding editors of Arts & Health: An International Journal for Research, Policy and Practice. He is joint editor with Professor Paul Camic of the Oxford Textbook of Creative Arts, Health and Wellbeing. []

Katarzyna Grebosz-Haring is a systematic musicologist, music educator and music therapist based in Salzburg, Austria. She is currently a senior scientist in the Inter-University Organization Science and Arts at the University of Salzburg and the Mozarteum University Salzburg. She has directed several empirical studies on the social and psychological meanings of music and art. Her main research interests are systematic-empirical approaches in music research, the clinical and educational application of music and art, and the mediation of music. She is a member of the Royal Society for Public Health. She has authored numerous interdisciplinary publications in SAGE, Routledge, Elsevier and others. []

Leonhard Thun-Hohenstein obtained his medical degree in Vienna. He finished boards in Pediatrics (1986), Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Psychotherapeutic Medicine (2018) and Neuropsychiatry (1993). He was former Head of Department and Professor for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the SALK, Campus CDK, Paracelsus Private Medical University in Salzburg. He is vice president of the Austrian Society for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (ÖGKJP), board member of the Austrian Society for Child protection in medicine (ÖGKiM) and member of the Oberster Sanitätsrat (Supreme Medical Counsil, Federal Ministry for Health). []

Anna K. Schuchter-Wiegand obtained her Magistra rer. nat. in Vienna (2015). Currently she is working as scientific staff at the Paris Lodron University Salzburg for the Project ‘Art is a doctor: Research on the effect of musical activity on overall well-being of children and adolescents with mental illnesses and from socially underprivileged households.’ []

Arne C. Bathke obtained his PhD in Mathematics in Göttingen (2000), and he is Professor of Statistics at the University of Salzburg. His main methodological research areas are nonparametric statistics and inference for multivariate data. Currently, he is President of the International Biometric Society – Region Österreich-Schweiz (IBS-ROeS), on the board of the Austrian Statistical Association (ÖSG), Editor-in-Chief (with M. Schmid) of Biometrical Journal, as well as on the editorial board of two other international statistics journals (International Journal of Biostatistics, Journal of the American Statistical Association). []