BAMT Music Therapy and Psychoanalysis Network: Music, aesthetics and unconscious containment in music therapy

02 December 2023

Presentation, small and large group discussion led by Martin Lawes,

Saturday 2nd December, 9:30am-1pm, via zoom

Please note the revised timing, beginning at 9:30am.



Outline of presentation

The network meeting will begin with a presentation intended to provide a springboard for the small and large group discussion to follow. The presentation, including theory and case examples, will take as its starting point Darnley-Smith’s research about the aesthetics of music therapy improvisation and the differences between psychodynamic and music-centred working. It will be suggested that the theory drawn on to inform psychodynamic practice can be usefully enriched through the inclusion of psychoanalytic perspectives on aesthetics and creativity that appear to be little known in our field (e.g. the work of Segal, Ehrenzweig, Meltzer, Bollas, Lacan and others).

Some of these perspectives will be presented and integrated with theory that may be more familiar, providing a way to understand how the aesthetic dimension of musical experience can be understood to be allied with its unconscious containing function in creating and listening to music. The relationship between the therapeutic and compositional processes will be considered. This is where the process may in each case include working with anxiety, uncertainty, fragmentation, disconnection, ‘stuckness’ or overwhelm as may manifest in the sounds and music produced.


The psychoanalytic perspectives presented will highlight not only the central importance of aesthetic experience in human life and relationships where our passions are aroused, but also help illuminate the complexity of the topic. Thus, for example, music may on the one hand provide an ‘escape from reality’ as a form of ‘entertainment’, and on the other hand allow us to come to terms with the inner reality of our felt experience in all its challenge as little else can.

It is hoped that the presentation will provide new ways to think about core aspects of music therapy practice where there may also be many questions. These are questions which we perhaps all share in our different ways as can be discussed following the presentation.




Martin Lawes has been practicing as a music therapist since 1999, and has worked in special needs education, adoption, adult mental health, palliative care, and in private practice. Martin is additionally qualified in Guided Imagery and Music (GIM) and is founder and director of the Integrative GIM Training Programme ( Martin has had a number of journal articles published discussing psychoanalytically informed thinking and practice in music therapy, including 3 articles in the BJMT.