Department of Psychology

Visiting address
3020 Parkstead House, Whitelands

Phone: +44 (0)20 8392 3788

Centre for Arts Therapies Research


Phone: 02083923788


Rachel Darnley-Smith lectures and researches in music therapy.


Rachel studied music and philosophy at Lancaster before training as a music therapist at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She gained her Masters in philosophy and psychoanalysis at Essex where she wrote her dissertation on Schopenhauer's metaphysical theory of music, and the historical significance of this in contemporary music therapy practice. She completed a doctoral thesis in musicology at Durham, where she was the recipient of an AHRC PhD studentship award. In her thesis she examined themes of aesthetics, including ontology, in the music of music therapy, Both these projects were initially inspired by everyday clinical practice and the theoretical problems that had emerged in the writing of an introductory text 'Music Therapy' (Sage Publications, 2003), co-authored with Helen M. Patey.

Clinical Work

Rachel has worked in a variety of clinical settings including Adult and Old Age Psychiatry, Inner London Probation Service, a Social Services Day Centre for Adults with a physical disability, and a child development centre. Prior to Roehampton she taught at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (1994-2003) and was Head of Music Therapy for Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust (1999-2003).

Projects and research

Recent projects include the widely acclaimed international one day conference held at Roehampton University in May 2019  ‘Music Therapy Research: A showcase of 50 years of funding by the Music Therapy Charity’.

Other projects include ‘Music in the Psychoanalytic Ear’ (2018) in collaboration with Samuel Wilson (Guildhall School of Music and Drama) funded by the Institute of Musical Research, GSMD and Roehampton. 

Music and Psychoanalysis continues as an ongoing research interest: she is the Guest editor of the forthcoming special edition of the forthcoming British Journal of Music Therapy on Music and the Unconscious (2019)

Rachel is also Co-Editor of the forthcoming handbook: Psychodynamic approaches to the experience of dementia; perspectives from observation, theory and practice. (ed. Sandra Evans, Jane Garner & Rachel Darnley-Smith). Abingdon: Routledge.

Rachel is also developing a collaboration with the newly launched Cambridge Institute for Music Therapy Research (CIMTR)


Rachel supervises doctoral students both in music therapy and counselling psychology and welcomes enquiries from prospective applicants especially with interests in adult mental health, psychoanalysis, aesthetics and recognition theory.

In addition to teaching and research, Rachel runs a private supervision practice for qualified music therapists in London.

Hear more from Rachel by listening to her Podcast discussion with Luke Annesley where they consider ‘all things music therapy’



PhD (Durham), MA(Essex), BA (Hons) Lancaster, LGSM (MT) Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Registered with the Health Care Professions Council

Research interests

Aesthetics of Improvisation in Music Therapy

Music and psychoanalysis

Empathy and recognition

Research projects

(2013) What is the Music of Music Therapy? An Enquiry into the Aesthetics of Clinical

Improvisation, Durham theses, Durham University. Available at Durham E-Theses Online:

Professional affiliations

Health Care Professions Council

British Association of Music Therapy

Association of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy in the NHS

 Music Therapy Charity

Professional affiliations

Research outputs

  1. ‘The music of recognition: the recognition of music again’

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

  2. Music as Mirror in the care of elderly people with Dementia

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

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