It’s been over 7 years since "introduction to music therapy class" has been offered as an elective class to undergraduate students at Ewha Womans University. In Korea, music therapy is offered at the graduate level, therefore, the primary purpose of this class was to let the students know that there is graduate program in music therapy for those who are interested.
Despite of the full load of the required credit hours, students showed much interested in taking this class, and every class has reached its maximum number, 200. Some got it with special open-class permit. Ewha, being the largest women’s university in Asia, and having almost 20,000 students, has been offering great elective classes to choose from. It was quite flattering in the beginning to see this strong response and interest toward music therapy.
As semesters went by, I realized how important this class was for the students. I evidenced what music and musical experiences brought to them, and also to me. These experiences made me to think that such class should be offered in all universities. I would like share my thoughts on this.
In the beginning, I asked myself "what is it that draws them to this class?" "Is it music or therapy?" After teaching for a few semesters, I have come to the conclusion that the word "therapy" has drawn them more than the word "music." If it had been the music, then they could have taken other classes on just music and music appreciation. It was therapeutic use of music they were drawn to.
Due to unique educational system in Korea, similar to Japan, high-school students have to invest three years to enter top universities. They don’t have much chance to think about their personal needs as the only priority in their life up until high-school is to get into good universities. As they enter the university, then their personal journey starts with the relief of achievement. This is not always a pleasant one, often leading them into confusion and searching. They start to ask themselves if their needs were met, if it was what they pursued, if they are in the right tract, etc.
From their assignments or participation attitudes, I often found them depressed. Many had their own inner conflicts or relationship issues not knowing how to cope with. Selecting this class seemed like an action answering to their inner motif to get to know themselves and meeting the need of "therapy." It was apparent that they had been using music as a therapeutic tool or an object working with their emotions from early years. In other words, they had evidenced therapeutic power of music in their own way, and were ready to get to know more about it.
Secondly, in order for the class to provide the students what they needed, the course had to include contents on therapeutic use of music, instead of music therapy discipline. I had to accommodate the course content much different from the ones for the music therapy major students. This class included theories on individual musical elements in relation to human response; melody for emotion, and rhythm for energy level. I tried to balance the class between didactic and experiential content, and psychodynamic and behavioral orientations.
Also there were various music activities encouraging students to participate and think about. What goes on during music listening? What do they experience? Why are these experiences different? What is therapeutic about singing? What does voice manifest? How is it to play an instrument or improvise? How is it to be involved in music making as a group? What was projected in music? What does music preference tell you, etc. Many questions and explorations were shared. Among many, song psychotherapy activities were most intensive and powerful because songs deal with universal issues everyone could relate to. We took turns for participations. Talking about the feeling of being observed or observing others were another informative experience in music. I processed on them as well.
Third, I wanted them to acknowledge the existential meaning of one’s life through music in this class. For those of music therapists who have done music autobiography with clients, we know the power of music’s associative and representative meaning beyond time and space. It allowed them to reexperience the emotion related to different episodes of life. Actually there was more to that.
In my class, the final assignment for this class was developing music autobiography. Students were asked to select one or two pieces of music for about five year time span. Since most of the students are in their early 20s, they usually come up with 7or 10 selections of piece. In the beginning they were rather overwhelmed with the idea of searching and accessing the music from the past. It is very interesting, however, how they all come into the awareness that this is a very special work. Owing to the advanced on-line technology, all the students have done great job of coming up with their own CDs of autobiography.
I think music autobiography is a must-to-do task for everyone because of what the process of making it can bring. It reminded them of the support system and valuable resources they have had, and things that were forgotten for many years. It also allowed them to get reconnected with their inner resource which allowed them to cope and overcome hardships.
Reading those assignments offered me a special moment of resonance and empathy, although it took a significant amount of time every semester. My emotional and spiritual space grew with their stories, especially when they came to realize that they were not "lost" but just "exploring."
Fourth, I think university needs to provide more therapy-related elective classes. There are many elective classes dealing with facts and knowledge about the world and I am sure those classes are important. However, none of those knowledge-based elective classes teach how to take care of us, our well-being. Along with intellectual knowledge, what are needed are the classes that can reach into our hearts, teach how to take care and get to know themselves. It is so essential to provide any kind of therapy-related classes for students’ emotional health at the university level.
Music is viable and pervasive. Everyone has their own relationship with music, therefore, a class on therapeutic use of music would certainly be substantial and influential for the students. This is as important as, if not more, than any other knowledge-based class. Having better insight and understanding of one’s own needs is an essential knowledge which will fulfill their heart and contribute in becoming a "fully-functioning" person. Even for prospective music therapy majors, learning how music has been acting in our lives for our psychological and emotional needs is important step before going into the discipline of music therapy as well.
Lastly, I have learned so much from students in terms of what issues students struggle with the most and how they seek answers to them. I see the differences among generations. In general, they are becoming more open to discussions and expressive about their emotions. They are determined to work on themselves, and it gives me an inspiration and energy to offer what they need. I grow with them as a person, a therapist, and an educator.
Chong, Hyun Ju (2006). Need of an Elective Class on "Therapeutic Use of Music" at the Undergraduate Level. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved June 10, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=colchong041206