‘It’s just a different dimension’: Music therapists’ experiences of hearing loss — Sara Cole & Catherine Warner

Volume 14 (2) 2022 – Article (first published on 5 October 2020)

Full text [PDF]

‘It’s just a different dimension’: Music therapists’
experiences of hearing loss

Sara Cole & Catherine Warner


This study explores the lived experiences of qualified music therapists who identify as having hearing loss. The risk of hearing loss for professional musicians is widely acknowledged in literature, with one study demonstrating an increased risk of hearing loss for music therapists. No current literature, however, explores the experiences of hearing loss from the perspective of the music therapist, in a profession in which hearing and listening could be seen as central to the work. For this study, qualitative research methods were employed, involving semi-structured interviews with six music therapists experiencing different levels of hearing loss. Verbatim transcripts were then analysed, using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA), resulting in the identification of three principal themes across the data set: 1) Listening is exhausting: Identity as a music therapist with hearing loss; 2) Impatient or intrigued? Stigma versus support; and 3) How I manage: Strategies for coping. These themes are discussed in-depth, in light of existing theory and implications for practice. The analysis supports existing research demonstrating that acquired hearing loss does not impede musical ability. Barriers to proficiency arise from other areas. Implications are discussed, including recommendations for hearing-protection training within music therapy training programmes.


hearing loss, music therapy, identity, stigma, hearing protection, musicians’ health


Sara Cole is a music therapist working at Richmond Music Trust in London and MusicSpace in Bristol. Prior to her training Sara worked for 18 years in the care sector. During this time, she completed an MSc in Deaf Studies and subsequently worked with deaf young adults in community settings. In addition to her role at Richmond Music Trust, Sara works as a visiting musician at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children. Sara is a pianist and a percussionist; she teaches piano and is an accompanist for a visually impaired choir. [saracole95@yahoo.com] Dr Catherine Warner is senior lecturer and programme leader for the MA Music Therapy at University of the West of England. Her research interests include PAR approaches with a focus on empowerment of co-researchers. Projects include researching with non-verbal people with learning disabilities and children affected by adverse life events. She is currently involved in STALWART, an ERASMUS+ project. She has been a music therapist for over 26 years and has also worked as a professional cellist.[catherine.warner@uwe.co.uk]