MTRB was created for the working music therapy clinician in order to help with the goal of maintaining evidence-based practice. The purpose of this blog is to provide a resource for the music therapy clinician – where you can find information on current research, ways to generalize findings into practice, and tips about maintaining an evidence-based practice.
The practice of family-based music therapy has generally been directed toward families of individuals with special needs, focusing on both the needs of the indivudal and the family context/needs of the parents. There is support within the literature for treating individuals within the family context, with one meta-analysis offering evidence that care provided within the family context offers a range of benefits for the family as a whole as well as for individual family members (Dunst, Trivette, & Hamby, 2007), suggesting that it may be of value to expand access to these services to families outside of the usual clinical context in which music therapists see clients.
The current study under discussion, which was part of Nemesh’s PhD research dissertation, set out to extend family-based music therapy interventions to families who were not seeking treatment for any particular diagnosis or for a particular individual within the family unit. Three families were chosen to participate based on their interest in engaging in short-term family music therapy for the family as a whole that would be delivered at no cost to them. The study was designed to both explore the subjective experiences of the families involved, as well as to investigate the therapeutic possibilities of a family-based music therapy approach.
All families completed six hour-long family music therapy sessions that involved the improvisational method. All three families found the sessions to be effective in revealing underlying family issues without raising defensiveness, as well as in motivating positive change within their interactions. The sessions provided opportunities to practice new ways of relating to each other within the musical improvisations, then helped the families to generalize those changes to their interactions in everyday life.
I think it’s important to note that the music therapist who conducted this study is a dual-expertise therapist, credentialed in both music therapy and family therapy, so interpretation of the applicability of the results should keep this particular factor in mind. This study highlights the strength of combining disciplines to create more effective therapeutic approaches and interventions.
These preliminary results are promising, providing initial evidence that family-based music therapy provided within a short course of treatment may be beneficial. From the therapeutic perspective, the potential of this approach is best summarized by the author herself when she says that “the importance of family music therapy training lies in the fact that, as individuals, we are all part of a family system.” The author makes a strong case for why training in family music therapy should be a part of every music therapy student’s education.
The other aspect of this study that I found particularly intriguing is the intervention’s ability to be an assessment tool for identifying challenges within the family system, and to be able to do so quickly and reliably. We will need more research into this potential use of family-based music therapy, but the results of this study are also promising in this regard.