Music Therapy with Families: Defining Music Early Learning Programs (MELPS)

Music Therapy

“Families and Music Early Learning Programs” in Music Therapy with Families: Therapeutic Approaches and Theoretical Perspectives

Music Therapist and Managing Director of Bobbin Babies, Vicky Abad, reflects on how music could support all parents in their everyday parenting and not only those facing complex needs, and talks to us about how, with Professor Margaret S. Barrett, she came to present a working definition of MELP – Music Early Learning Program – in Music Therapy with Families: Therapeutic Approaches and Theoretical Perspectives

Music Early Learning Programs, or MELPs, strengthen parent-child bonds, families and communities.

When I was first approached to write this book chapter I thought there must be a mistake.

My initial response was “I no longer work as a music therapist with families who have complex needs, rather I run a business for families who wish to attend music groups in their community”.

“Yes! That is exactly why we want you to write this chapter in the book” came the reply.

The timing for this chapter was impeccable. My personal journey as a music therapist and my professional journey as a business owner were coalescing in a way that led me into the world of research. But let me explain what I mean.

Family is paramount

When I first started working as a music therapist it was in aged care, where it became obvious that family input enriched the experiences and quality of life of the person receiving music therapy. I then moved into a medical setting, at a children’s hospital where family was paramount to the treatment of the child. From there I moved into a community setting where I established the Sing & Grow program, and worked directly with families in a model of music therapy that at the time was very new.

The idea of making the family the client, rather than the child was not the norm. To me, it was a no brainer that we could not impact on the lives of the children attending the music therapy early intervention program without impacting on the family, and in particular the parents.

Music supports parenting

Once I became a parent myself this became even more obvious to me. It was at this point that I began to really reflect on how music could support all parents in their everyday parenting, not just be a ‘therapy’ available to those deemed at risk.

I also reflected how this was only possible through a user-pay system as universal access for music therapy programs (or music programs at all) did not exist. At the same time I wanted to take my infant daughter to a music program that was live and interactive, and used music to promote and enhance bonding. For me it became clear that a music therapist was the best person to provide this experience. But no such program existed, so Boppin’ Babies was born.

Beyond intervention to service provision

Boppin’ Babies is not an early intervention program that works with clients who have identified needs. It is a business that provides a service to parents who choose to participate in music groups that are informed by music therapy principles and research with their children.  When Boppin’ Babies began it was difficult to define what this service was, and this, plus the many questions I kept asking myself about why parents were attending, led me to research and the information that informs a lot of this chapter.

Building communities with MELPs

I have worked closely with my supervisor and colleague Professor Barrett to define the space where these family music therapy groups occur, and in this book we present a working definition of the MELP – Music Early Learning Program – for families to come together and share music time on a regular basis in their local communities. We also provide useful information for the reader on the kind of families who seek out services like MELPs and the reasons why they attend.

I continue to work as a music therapist, conduct weekly music groups with families as well as at home with my own family.
As a music therapy researcher and clinician this book has helped me to reflect on my clinical skills and I hope it will also help people out there too.

Vicky Abad is a Registered Music Therapist with extensive national and international management, clinical and research experience in paediatric and early intervention music therapy and music early learning. Vicky started her own business Boppin’ Babies in 2007, and over the years has grown it in response to client needs while balancing this with market demand and family life. She has a keen understanding of the intricacies of running an arts therapy business in today’s busy world. She has presented her research and lectured in music therapy, music early learning and business management internationally.

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