In her interesting column earlier this year, my colleague Sarah Hoskyns described a seven-year process of supporting students to undertake ethically sound research (Hoskyns, 2012). Her reminder that we have now facilitated dozens of students master’s research projects in our music therapy department sparked my interest to review what those projects were about. We feel quite strongly that students should have the opportunity to address questions that they are genuinely curious to answer, and we try to limit our guidance to helping them scope their projects, discussing with them the methodologies and methods they might use to answer their questions, and of course challenging them to identify and manage ethical issues that might arise. We also steer them towards research questions that, if not based directly on their own practice, are at least related to the context in which they are working.
Their research projects then, provide a reflection of placement opportunities for music therapy students in New Zealand. Our students undertake two short placements in their first year, and a much longer and more in-depth casework and research placement in their second year. While we require that these placements are with contrasting facilities and/or populations we have enough placements, so far, to give students several choices about where they will go. With only seven years of graduates practising in the field, we do not have a great number of experienced music therapists who can offer student placements, but we have been able to work with a range of multidisciplinary team members who make very good ‘clinical liaisons’. They look after the students at their facilities, supported by visiting registered music therapists who provide supervision. Many of our students have moved into paid employment at the facilities where they have been placed for their casework and research year, so the contexts for their research projects also provide a loose indication of where music therapists might be working in this country.
The greatest number of projects has been undertaken in education contexts. Of the forty-six I reviewed twenty describe work in school settings. This is perhaps not surprising since music therapy arguably has a relatively solid position within this field in New Zealand. The Ministry of Education has recognised music therapists as specialists who can provide a service to students who have high or very high special education needs, for many years. Appreciation for the ways in which music therapy can support the learning and development of children in schools has gradually but perpetually increased as music therapists and music therapy students demonstrate what is possible. Students have undertaken projects that consider the links between music therapy and specific programmes used in schools, such as Rudolf Steiner philosophy (Steiner, 1924); the TEACCH programme for children who have autism (Mesibov, Shea, & Schpler, 2005) and the national Key Competencies curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007), as well as investigating how music therapy can support communication, socialisation, participation, inclusion, and audition, speech, and language. Two other school projects have focused on interaction with other professionals to determine carer perception of music therapy, and the music therapy student’s contribution to multidisciplinary team assessment. The project I undertook myself as an experienced music therapist enrolled in the one-year thesis only programme, involved a randomised control trial to investigate music therapy to reduce impulsivity in adolescents who had ADHD (Rickson, 2006). Other studies have focused on specific populations in schools too, such as students who have low vision or are blind, and students with autism.
A further twelve projects were undertaken with children in hospital, private clinics or, with younger children, in preschool or child development facilities. Students have been particularly interested in involving carers in their clinical sessions with young children and several projects have focused on carer perception of music therapy, while another investigated the impact of music therapy on the parent and child relationship (Archer, 2004). On the other hand five of these studies with young children focused on the development of communication skills, including speech and language. Most of the projects involved children with diverse needs, although others focused on work with preschool children with cochlea implants, children with autism, and children with cerebral palsy. The two studies that were undertaken in a paediatric hospital ward focused on relationship building (between student music therapist and hospitalised child), and self-reported affect.
Two students’ own experiences of cultural diversity have prompted them to consider the issues involved in working cross culturally in music therapy. Choi (2008) investigated New Zealand music therapists’ perceptions of working with clients from different cultures, as well as considering how her own experience as a second generation Korean might affect her clinical work in the multicultural environment of New Zealand; while Kahui (2008) was able to consider a culturally appropriate approach to music therapy from a Maori perspective, particularly with regard to his experience of working with Rangitahi (adolescents) in an acute mental health facility.
Four other studies have been located at adolescent units, and students have been particularly interested in considering how their music therapy practice can be understood when the young people are usually only present for one or two sessions. They have wondered how they can facilitate the young people’s contributions when there is little time to develop relationships (Wong, 2009) and how they might use their own as well as multidisciplinary team members’ reflections on sessions, to improve practice (Garber, 2008). They have been interested in the perceptions of others regarding the value of music therapy in this setting (Tutty, 2006) and to gain an understanding of group dynamics and process through analysis of musical improvisations (Upjohn Beatson, 2012).
Two more studies have been undertaken within mental health units; in the first the student provided qualitative reflections on her music therapy sessions with adults who have intellectual disabilities and mental health problems (Lee, 2007) and in the second the student aimed to uncover the impact attending staff members had on the dynamics of group music therapy within a forensic unit (Hill, 2006). Others have studied their work with older people with psychiatric disorders; specifically patients who have dementia, and anxiety. Two contrasting studies with patients who have dementia examined the relationship between Kitwood’s model of personhood (Kitwood, 1996) and the student’s music therapy practice (Allan, 2012), and the involvement of family members in the music therapy process (Dennis, 2012). Castelino’s (2009) examination of the effects of single sessions of music therapy on levels of state anxiety in older people with psychiatric disorders is one of the few student studies that employed an experimental design.
Finally, two students have written about their work in the addictions field, a third about her work in a rehabilitation facility for adults who have experienced brain injury, and two more about their music therapy in hospice settings. With regard to addictions, Savage (2007) explored the music therapy methods and goals chosen by women seeking recovery from long-term alcohol and/or drug addition, while Yearsley (2010) employed action research to develop her understanding of music therapy practice, particularly with regard to the balance of structure and freedom needed when working with people undergoing alcohol and drug treatment in a prison context. Liu (2011) was interested in how music therapy strategies might enhance the general milieu in the rehabilitation facility, and made important suggestions about engaging people in music activities outside of their ‘home’. The two students working in palliative care examined how music therapy might support spirituality (meaning and purpose, relationships, and transcendence) (Hepburn, 2004) and staff perceptions on how music therapy might support spirituality (Squires, 2011) , respectively.
While two students have been able to undertake experimental research, and one has done a clinical audit which involved quantitative data, the majority of students have employed theoretical, exploratory, case study, or action research approaches and have gathered qualitative data from participant observations, interviews, and research journals. As Sarah explained (Hoskyns, 2012) timelines are really pressuring for completing research within the academic year, and obtaining ethical approval for experimental and many other forms of research is complex. Moreover, we are particularly interested in supporting students to develop as clinicians, and this has led us to encourage them to focus their research questions on their own practice. And so, more recently, they have used data collected for clinical purposes (clinical records and case-notes, their student reflective journal, and sometimes audio or video recordings of sessions) as data sources. Recordings have naturally been important in the six music-centred projects where students have examined the music created during music therapy sessions to uncover what is happening in the music during meaningful moments, the development of communication skills during triadic improvisations, an understanding of how group dynamics and process might be evidenced in improvised music, the communicative music making of children with autism, and how changes in children’s use of rhythm and other musical elements might reflect in their overall development.
And so, what are music therapy students curious about? It seems they have a particular interest in how music therapy ‘fits’ with the philosophies and programmes of the facilities where they are placed, how the music therapy process is affected by the presence or participation of other professionals and family members, how other people view music therapy, how it can be improved, and finally, does it work. It is important to acknowledge that despite my claim that students have significant choice regarding where they undertake their clinical placement, and what questions they might as of their work; they will be influenced by the passion and experience of their lecturers, Sarah Hoskyns and me. Nevertheless, this quick review has indicated that students have a diverse range of interests and are answering unique questions that not only help to improve their practice but are of interest to others in music therapy and related fields.
Allan, M. (2012). The relationship between Kitwood's model of needs and a student's music therapy practice in an acute assessment unit for people living with dementia and mental health issues (Master thesis). New Zealand School of Music, Massey campus, New Zealand.
Archer, C. (2004). Music therapy and early intervention: The parent-child relationship is centre stage. New Zealand Journal of Music Therapy, 36-49.
Castelino, A. (2009). The effect of single sessions of music therapy on the level of anxiety in older persons with psychiatric disorders: A pilot study ( Master thesis) New Zealand School of Music, Wellington, New Zealand.
Choi, H. C. (2008). Multicultural encounters in music therapy in New Zealand: What particular clinical experiences do NZ music therapists describe when encountering clients who identify closely with a culture different from their own? (Master thesis). the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.
Dennis, P. (2012). Involving family members of people with dementia in the music therapy process at a residential care facility (Master thesis), Massey University, Wellington Campus, New Zealand.
Garber, M. L. (2008). Exploring processing and reflection methods and how they can be utilized in music therapy sessions at an adolescent acute psychiatric ward (Master thesis) New Zealand School of Music.
Hepburn, M. & Krout, R. (2004). Meaning, purpose, transcendence and hope: Music therapy and spirituality in end of life hospice care. New Zealand Journal of Music Therapy , 58-82.
Hill, A. (2006). Characteristics of staff interaction with music therapy in a forensic psychiatric setting: Examining the clinical implications (Master thesis), Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand.
Hoskyns, S. (2012). Learning about ethical research practice: With students and with human ethics committees. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, Retrieved November 12, 2012, from http://voices.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2012-learning-about-ethical-research-practice-students-and-human-ethics-committe.
Kahui, D. J. (2008). A cultural approach to music therapy in New Zealand: A Māori perspective (Master thesis). Massey University, NZ School of Music, Wellington, New Zealand.
Kitwood, T. M. (1996). Coping with dementia: The person comes first. London: BPS Blackwell.
Lee, C.-Y. (2007). Walking on the path of recovery: Reflections on the process of music therapy with adult individuals suffering from mental illness (Master thesis). New Zealand School of Music, Wellington, New Zealand.
Liu, X. (2011). The use of music therapy strategies to enhance the general milieu in a rehabilitation centre (Master thesis). Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand.
Mesibov, G. B., Shea, V., & Schopler, E. (2005). The TEACCH approacht to autism spectrum disorders. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
Ministry of Education. (2007). Key competencies: Capabilities for living and lifelong learning. Retrieved 21/12/2012, 2012, from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Curriculum-documents/The-New-Zealand-Curr...
Rickson, D. J. (2006). Instructional and improvisational music therapy approaches with adolescents who have ADHD: A comparison of the effects on motor impulsivity. Journal of Music Therapy, 43(1), 39-62.
Savage, R. J. (2007). Adding music to the journey: An exploration of the goals set and methods chosen in individual music therapy treatment conducted with women seeking recovery from long-term alcohol/drug addiction, and an assessment of the perceived outcomes (Master thesis). New Zealand School of Music, Wellington, New Zealand.
Squires, K. (2011). Staff perceptions of how music therapy can support palliative care patients in a New Zealand / Aotearoa hospice, with a particular focus on spiritual care (Master thesis). New Zealand School of Music, Wellington, New Zealand.
Steiner, R. (1924). Anthroposophical leading thoughts. London: Rudolph Steiner Press.
Tutty, A. (2006). An investigation into the perceived value of music therapy interventions in an acute adolescent mental health setting (Master thesis). New Zealand School of Music, Wellington, New Zealand.
Upjohn Beatson, E. B. (2012). Establishing an understanding of group dynamics and process within single-session music therapy groups open to both adolescents with mental illness and mental health staff (Master thesis). New Zealand School of Music, Wellington, New Zealand.
Wong, C. Y. (2009). How can a music therapy student facilitate contributions by adolescent clients who have psychiatric disorders in group music therapy? (Master thesis). New Zealand School of Music, Wellington, New Zealand.
Yearsley, S. (2010). Striking a balance: Improving practice as a student doing group music therapy with adults with substance abuse and dependence (Master thesis). New Zealand School of Music, Wellington, New Zealand.
Rickson, Daphne (2013). What are Music Therapy Students Curious About?. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved June 11, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2013-what-are-music-therapy-students-curious-about