In our recent release, Music Therapy with Families, international music therapists describe and discuss models of working with families in different clinical areas, from those with family members with dementia or autism, to those in palliative care, psychiatric or paediatric hospital settings. To celebrate the release of Music Therapy with Families, we caught up with Stine Lindhal Jacobsen and Grace Thompson to talk about all things music therapy and their new book!
What motivated you to write Music Therapy with Families?
Grace: Back in 2012 I attended the Nordic Congress of Music Therapy in Finland. There was a round-table presentation where music therapists from different countries shared their approaches to working with families. It was really exciting to hear about the diverse approaches each music therapist took in their work, and also the variety of populations music therapists were working with. Many were working with young children, but others were working with families with adolescent children or families where adult children were supporting older parents. The following year I met my future co-editor Stine Lindahl Jacobsen at the European Music Therapy Congress in Oslo, and soon after she invited me to write a chapter for this book. I was so excited about the idea, that I enthusiastically offered to help Stine with the editing and she agreed – that was the start of our special connection across opposite sides of the world!
Stine: Ever since I started working with families in 2005 I wanted to develop a theoretically anchored music therapy approach focused on the complex dynamics of families. I kept looking for these in the literature to be inspired and learn from others but only found a few. The idea about the book has long been in my mind and after the foundation of an international network of working with families within music therapy I was really motivated to follow up on the book. I was utterly grateful for Grace Thompson to offer her assistance as co-editor as the job isn’t easily done – and I happily accepted. Our collaboration was pure pleasure – it was really a sensation of sharing the same vision and goal.
What do you think it is about music that has the potential to be therapeutic?
Grace: This is a great question, and one that music therapists are asked a lot! There are different perspectives that you can take when thinking about how music can be therapeutic. Some people theorise that music making in communities has always been a way for people to socially bond together. Other academics highlight how music stimulates many parts of the brain at once, making music participation a bit like a full brain work-out! In my work, I align with theories from developmental psychology which highlight how musical play and interactions are part of the earliest forms of social interaction. Before we could even speak, our caregivers used musical forms to attune to us and try to engage with us. For children with disabilities who might have various developmental challenges, music therapists create opportunities for musical interplay in order to provide another avenue for social and communication development. For some children, interacting within music making is more motivating and enjoyable and so they persist with the interaction for longer. Music making therefore provides a really powerful opportunity to support and promote developmental outcomes. Each author in our book has a different theoretical perspective which they explain in depth in their chapter, so the reader can gain a very broad understanding of how and why music therapy makes an important contribution to people’s lives.
Stine: Big question – and important. For me it is about how music motivates us and draws us in. When you work with people in music you get a sense of them very quickly and they get a sense of you too! There is so much information in musical interaction which guides the music therapist but also the people you work with. For me the musical interaction is genuine and there is an important authentic meeting. You cannot lie in the music. The music can help you contain difficult emotions and aid you to try on new expressions and roles. Using music gives you endless opportunities to flexibly, respectfully and adjustably meet the need of many different clients as the book also illustrates with all its different therapists and clients.
It is mentioned in the book that music therapy is gaining popularity as a therapeutic activity. Why do you think this is so?
Grace: Well, in my work as a music therapist with children on the Autism Spectrum, many families comment that music therapy doesn’t feel like therapy. Instead, they say how much they enjoy the sessions as a parent, and how their child really looks forward to coming. I think that families really appreciate being able to share a mutually enjoyable experience with their child. When they see their child playing the instruments, singing and moving to the music, they can also see their child’s strengths. As a music therapist, I love being able to uncover what the child can do well, and using that as the basis to support further development.
Stine: I also think music therapy is gaining popularity partly because research is growing and building an argument for its use, but also because we as academics are getting better at disseminating the positive effects and complex processes to other disciplines and to the general population.
What, in your opinion, is the most challenging aspect of working with families (as opposed to individuals) in music therapy? What is the most rewarding aspect?
Grace: I have worked as a music therapist with families who have young children with disabilities since around 2000. I have always experienced how quickly the children get to know me and how much fun we have together when we are playing music. But of course, I will only work with the children for a short time in their lives. It is very rewarding to support parents to join in with the musical play so that they can also experience this sense of fun and connection that can even deepen their parent-child relationship. However, some parents can be a bit hesitant to join in with the musical play. Our Western society tends to portray music as a specialist activity where you have to be ‘talented’ to make music or sing. So one of the challenges of the work is encouraging parents to have a go, and sing along even if they don’t feel they are very musical. I also encourage parents to keep using the songs and musical activities in the home without me, so that they can continue to provide rich developmental opportunities for their child, as well as having a new way to have fun together and strengthen relationship.
Stine: It can be very challenging to form healthy working alliances when working with families with emotionally neglected children. The aim is to make the family work better together and have no need of therapy. There is always a risk that as a therapist you might take over, or overshadow the parents, or bond more with one family member than another. However, the challenge and hard work is worth every second when you get to experience the empowerment of parents and children through music – when you get to see families grow closer, bond stronger and interact better.
What are you hoping readers take away from the book?
Grace: I hope our community will really understand what music therapy has to offer people with various disabilities and health challenges. I would love to see families including more music making in their daily lives, sharing joyful moments together with music, and supporting their children and loved ones to be the best they can be. I also hope that music therapists and music therapy students will be inspired by the different case examples and feel more confident to work with families in music therapy.
Stine: I hope music therapists in all forms will find inspiration and knowledge about working with families in music therapy. Interdisciplinary colleagues working with or interested in working with families might also get inspired or get to understand the work of their own colleagues. The book can be relevant to anyone interested in how music can connect to the lives of various families and their special needs, resources and challenges.
To buy the book or find out more about it please visit here.