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Conversation starters in music therapy research

Conversation starters are questions and prompts intended to get people talking. Although often thought of in the context of a dinner party or professional meeting as a way to initiate dialogue with a stranger, conversation starters can also be thought of as ideas that stimulate discussions or impact you in a way that helps you grow both personally and professionally. Conversation starters are, at times, explicit in their intention and impact, but other times more subtle in their influence.

To start one such conversation, we invited members of the Editorial Boards from the Journal of Music Therapy and Music Therapy Perspectives to suggest articles they felt substantively contributed to our knowledge base but are not commonly cited or referenced. These articles reflect a small sample of “conversation starter” articles that help connect to our history while opening dialogues about current perspectives and practices.

As we consider this selection of articles, one consistent theme is a focus on establishing new vantage points in research and practice through the development of new methodology and self-inquiry. Below are board members’ reflections on some of these articles:

  • Regarding Amir (1990): I love the analysis adapted from Ferrara (1984) – an early example of phenomenological analysis in music therapy. Song composition is still such an important technique. With the newer techniques in neurological rehabilitation, it is nice to be reminded of the expressive needs of individuals recovering from traumatic brain injury (TBI). 
  • Regarding Brunk & Coleman (2000): One reason I feel this article could be highlighted is that music therapists may not understand that the SEMTAP (Special Education Music Therapy Assessment Process) is, in fact, an assessment process vs. an assessment tool. The second reason is that the SEMTAP may be useful as an educational tool in instances where school personnel and others are not familiar with the value and “legitimate role” of music therapy in special education. This article explains the rationale for the development of the process, as well as background information on US federal special education laws. 
  • Regarding Magee (1999): This article might be of value because it speaks to addressing patient’s emotional experiences in an age of functional outcomes, and also reflects an early article focused on rehab before the age of neuroscience research in this area – and finally, is an early example of a rather more complex approach to differential assessment, also developed by Wendy.
  • Regarding Marom (2008): In the hospice music therapy community, there can be a tendency to construct narratives around the beauty of hospice that belie the challenges of the clinical setting. This article touches on some of these challenges, such as clinicians’ potential countertransferences when clients do not readily express gratitude as explicitly or frequently in case studies. Marom finds a nice balance in capturing both the beauty and difficulty of hospice work.
‘“Healing America’s Heroes through the Power of the Arts” Marine Staff Sgt. Anthony Mannino plays guitar as he performs Music Therapy as part of his Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) treatment and recovery.’ 160301-D-FW736-012 by DoD News. CC BY 2.0 via Flickr.

Here, the authors begin conversations centered on topics not commonly addressed at the time, such as promoting self- and emotional expression in an individual recovering from a TBI or highlighting the emotional challenges involved in end-of-life care. These conversations are arguably still relevant today, both in terms of their topics and their ability to challenge us clinically. By fostering unique perspectives, these articles maintain the ability to invite music therapists into meaningful dialogues about clinical and research practices. Such dialogues are important avenues for moving the field forward, and can serve as a model for initiating and maintaining perspective-broadening professional discourses.

For example, one potential avenue for future discourse is in collaborating with healthcare professionals outside the music therapy field. How might the experiences of a hospice nurse further inform the difficulties in relationship building that Marom addresses? How might an occupational therapist or physical therapist’s perspectives inform the intersection of physical and emotional needs in individuals with TBI highlighted by Amir? Furthermore, such discourse is not unidirectional; music therapists can also serve to inform the practice of nurses, occupational therapists, and physical therapists too. It is through such collaboration that the unique clinical experiences afforded to clients served by these professions can be articulated and broadened.

In these ways, the conversations started by these music therapy researchers maintain viability, and may afford new means of initiating discourse moving forward.

The authors thank the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Music Therapy and Music Therapy Perspectives for their ideas and contributions.

Featured image credit: guitar by Derek Truningerz. CC0 Public Domain via Unsplash

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