Music Therapy with Families – Q & A

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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.

Thoughts behind ‘The Music of Being’

Levinge_Music-of-Being_978-1-84905-576-5_colourjpg-printIn The Music of Being, Alison Levinge explains the approaches of key child development theorists and explores how they apply to and inform the practice of music therapy. In this article, she discusses the inspiration behind writing this unique book and how she feels Winnicott’s theories resonate with the central aspects of music therapy.

We only have to observe a mother with her baby to realize that we are deeply musical beings. Training as a musician, combined with an understanding of human development, has led me to consider the significance of this medium and in particular, its value as a therapeutic tool.

No matter what our musical preferences may be, whatever our age, where we live or more significantly, in what ways we may find life difficult, music can enable us to connect more deeply to who we really are. And this can happen even when we are yet to be born!

Our early experiences are impressed upon not only our physical being but also upon our cognitive and psychological states of mind. But what is it like to be a baby? How do we let people know what we are feeling? How do we ask for what we need when we do not have words? Above all, what is it that we require in order to help us along the journey of life in a healthy way? Through helping children and adults who have difficulties, I discovered the value of music and its remarkable ability to engage a child or adult in a relationship. I discovered music, in fact, is a universal language.

In the world of words, there are many who have studied early development. Donald Winnicott, a pediatrician and psychoanalyst, is one who dedicated his life to the study of babies with their mothers and it can be said, was an early prime mover in the field. My book evolved through interweaving some of Winnicott’s ideas with my experiences as a therapist, combined with my understanding of a musical relationship. Music can allow us to express ourselves in so many ways that words may not.

 

Alison Levinge, PHD, LGSM(MT), Cert.Ed., is a music therapy practitioner and researcher. She specializes in music therapy with children experiencing early developmental difficulties and issues relating to bereavement. She teaches and lectures internationally and is based in Bristol, UK. Read more on her book The Music of Being or order your copy here.

Worlds in Collision: Music and the Trauma of War

Delegates listen to composer and music therapist Nigel Osborne speaking at the conference. Photo: Robert Piwko

Delegates listen to composer and music therapist Nigel Osborne speaking at the conference. Photo: Robert Piwko

JKP author Julie Sutton was invited to speak at the Worlds in Collision: Music and the Trauma of War conference held in London’s Mansion House at the end of June. In this interview, she describes her experiences of working in the areas of trauma and conflict after the Bosnian war and the many diverse and inspiring approaches for dealing with the results of trauma covered by different speakers at the event. She also explains why her upcoming book, co-authored with Jos De Backer, will focus on promoting an awareness of an integration of musical thinking and theories of the mind.

How did you originally become involved in speaking at this conference? What does the theme of the conference mean to you personally?

I was invited because of my experience in the areas of music therapy, conflict and trauma. During the immediate ceasefire relating to the Bosnian war, I was invited by Prof Nigel Osborne and Ian Ritchie to visit Mostar and Sarajevo, to discuss the possibility of using the shell of a building in Mostar to build a music centre, including a music therapy department. They were interested in me because of my experiences in Belfast during the conflict, and my publications and conference presentations relating to psychological trauma (e.g. my work leading up to the book Music, Music Therapy & Trauma, which was the culmination of a Millennium Award I received). This first visit to Bosnia made an enormous impression on me, when I met some extraordinary people who were living in circumstances beyond the ordinary.

To make this trip from Belfast only served to heighten this experience and particularly to see what had happened to Mostar, a city with two different religious groups. While Belfast had and was still experiencing violent, destructive events, in Mostar I discovered how a functioning society that had been providing a full education programme for its children was now struggling to maintain and support its population, as well as trying to come to terms with the horrific impact of war. The special school children and staff I met and worked with were based in a bombed out hotel. Another school building was being shared by three different schools on a daily rota system. The memory of the extent of the destruction in Mostar and Sarajevo and its effect on the people I met stays with me to this day.

The Pavarotti Music Centre then grew out of the ruins of the building I had seen and music education, therapeutic experiences of music and music therapy were provided. I learned a great deal from this first visit to Bosnia, and from being a consultant for the Pavarotti Centre across a number of years, and working with the music therapists who were based there and who had travelled from different areas of Europe and N. America to take on the work. Because of this link, I had a very personal connection with this particular conference.

Musicians from the Band of the Adjutant General's Corps. Photo: Robert Piwko

Musicians from the Band of the Adjutant General’s Corps. Photo: Robert Piwko

Could you describe a little bit about the day at the conference itself – what did you particularly enjoy or find interesting or surprising about any of the presentations and discussions?

I attended the first day of the conference.  Perhaps the most striking thing about the day was the range and diversity of approaches to the trauma of war, such as from psychiatry, psychology and applied psychological approaches such as music therapy. To have eminent speakers providing an interdisciplinary perspective is always a rich experience, but at this conference there was also the involvement of the army, who began the day with a lively presentation by Major Guy Booth, about the work of the Band of the Adjutant General’s Corps. The Band has a number of contemporary ensembles supporting both civilian and military events, including playing for soldiers in fields of war. As well as enjoying and being touched by the music they played, it created a different atmosphere to have serving soldiers as part of the audience, and also knowing that these were musicians as well as soldiers. Through their own experiences, these young men and women also knew about the therapeutic impact that music can have, in ways that speak more deeply and directly to us than the very necessary and valuable research and theory building.

 

Your upcoming book, co-edited with Jos De Backer, will emphasise how essential the music is within music therapy. Was this a theme covered by many of the other speakers at the conference and why do you think this is such a crucial aspect of music therapy?

Jos and I believe that there should be awareness of an integration of musical thinking (detailed awareness and experiences of music in the clinical setting as well as the therapist’s own awareness of their musical identity) and theories of the mind (mental structures, in particular a psychodynamic frame of thought that connects the mind to the body,). My contribution to this conference was from this stance, something that acknowledges and also goes beyond neurological ideas, developmental theories or a medical music therapeutic approach to trauma.

We know that music exists on the same level where the central difficulties experienced by psychiatric patients can be located.  The relationship between music and psychopathology gives music therapy a crucial place in the treatment of psychiatric patients. A detailed and layered thinking about the impact of music upon us and upon psychopathology is at the centre of our thinking.

In our book we describe clinical material that demonstrates the fundamental significance of therapists’ listening to and thinking about music. While many authors have written about the art and science of music therapy, we propose to detail the central musical components of the work of a music therapist, as this is integrated into clinical practice. Some presenters at the conference did give information and included literature and research from psychology and neurology in relation to the brain and music, but apart from my paper there was no mention of the kind of integration that Jos and I focus on in our book. We hope very much that the book will serve as a first platform for this way of thinking about music and music therapy in this integrated way, as practiced in countries across Europe.

 

Delegates at the conference. Photo: Robert Piwko

Delegates at the conference. Photo: Robert Piwko

Can you explain a little bit about your talk and how music therapy has been used in ‘the theatres of war?’

There is not sufficient space to summarise the complexities of this area here, because when one is living within a ‘theatre of war’, one is at both a physical and emotional limit (and at times beyond) what the human embodied mind can manage. These are experiences beyond the ordinary, and which take us to the edges of what it is possible to experience and process. It is impossible not to be affected by these experiences. Because music is an incredibly powerful medium, speaking so directly to the body and mind, I believe it should be used with great caution and delicacy for those post-traumatised. A detailed and careful theoretical integration of theories of music and theories of mental structures (the mind in action) is thus essential. For my presentation I focused on one aspect, on experiences of time in the consulting room, where both patient and therapist may have varying senses of themselves in or out of time. I explore this further in a chapter in our book, because it is also one central aspect of music, and another way of thinking about what music therapy can bring as a treatment for those in distress.

‘In the Key of Genius’ a TED Talk by Adam Ockelford and Derek Paravicini

Earlier this year Derek Paravicini and Adam Ockelford spoke at a TEDx event in Warwick. The video of the talk has just become available to view on the TED homepage.

Born three and a half months prematurely, Derek Paravicini is blind and has severe autism. But with perfect pitch, an innate talent and many hours of practice he became an acclaimed concert pianist by the age of 10. Now a mature and creative musician this video shows Derek tearing up the “Chopsticks” rule book.

After meeting Derek at age 4, Adam Ockelford became Derek’s long term piano teacher and mentor. In this talk he explains how Derek’s musical understanding has changed over time.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jMBdQW2LLxw[/youtube]

To view the talk on the TED website please visit: http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_paravicini_and_adam_ockelford_in_the_key_of_genius.html

Adam Ockelford is the author of Music, Langauge and Autism (2013) published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.