Music Therapy: Global Perspectives

This worldwide community of almost 1,400 professionals and students came together July 5-9 in Seoul, South Korea from 45 countries to experience music and explore music therapy in eastern and western philosophy.
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" ... I have come to discover that the power of music cannot only heal but also build relationships, inspire momentous movements and establish a common network that helps bring us all together." -- Byungchuel Choi, organizer of the 13th World Congress of Music Therapy, held July 5-9, 2011 in Seoul, South Korea.

Petra Kern, past president of the World Federation of Music Therapy, expressed the hope that conference attendees would "take home new perspectives, new ideas and a sense of belonging to a worldwide music therapy community." This worldwide community of almost 1,400 professionals and students came together July 5-9 in Seoul, South Korea from 45 countries to experience music and explore music therapy in eastern and western philosophy.

A perfect example of music's power to build relationships and establish common bonds is "Let's Talk Music," a groundbreaking multicultural project allowing relationships between immigrants from countries such as France, Ethiopia, Uruguay and Russia, and Israeli "sabras" to develop through their music. With a music therapist's supervision, students presented themselves though their music and listened to others presenting their own music and culture. They shared feelings and insights, empathized and debated with each other, improvised and danced together. Quantitative and qualitative results showed that the group process enabled most students, immigrants and "sabras" alike to be more identified with their cultural roots, as well as with the Israeli ''host'' culture, and to "express more acceptance and openness towards the 'other.'" Avi Gilboa also reported success in expanding these methods to groups of Jewish and Arab students.

Gene Behrens (USA) used neurobiological research to inform her music therapy work in the same region, with children traumatized by ongoing conflicts in Bethlehem in the West Bank of occupied Palestinian territory. Significant changes from pre- to post-tests were found in children's emotional skills, such as matching words (happy, mad, proud, sad, scared) to pictures.

With so many natural disasters occurring around the world, music therapy for crisis intervention has become commonplace. Music therapists have risen to assist their peers across the globe in their greatest times of need. Tiao (China) described her work in a transitional resettlement in the earthquake zone in Sichuan, China in 2008, applying a model of "stabilization-oriented music therapy," based on supportive and activity-oriented music therapy. The psychological state of Qiang and Tibetan survivors, who grew up in a culture filled with music and dance, became much more stable after participating in music therapy, and instances of interpersonal conflicts among survivors at the resettlement decreased.

Let's look at medical settings: A unique program described by Park and Kim (Korea), using music therapy in the education of patients with diabetes, inspired movement as well as change. Patients learned relaxation techniques and participated in singing, music and exercise, songwriting, playing and improvisation. In a follow-up three months after their group, patients still remembered lyrics to their "Diabetic Health 1, 2, 3" song. Furthermore, results showed that combining songwriting with diabetes education helped individuals toward higher awareness and more active participation in their education.

Tomaino (USA) discussed music and memory in a much different context, that of rehabilitation. Music therapists use "procedural memory" for priming, allowing predictable lyrics to aid in word retrieval to assist in speech rehabilitation. "Musical mnemonics" are achieved when the structure and pattern of music provides a cue for information, such as phone numbers, names, addresses and specific phrases, to be stored and retrieved. For example, one of my clients learned his phone number by singing the digits to the tune of "Jingle Bells." We then faded out the singing and he generalized his learning to speaking the phone number in rhythm.

According to Kuribayashi (Japan), " ... although many different types of music therapy experiences exist in the world, each experience should have three basic elements" -- music, the therapist's healing skills and a theoretical foundation. Not surprisingly, at a gathering such as this one, attendees were exposed to a variety of philosophies, approaches and theoretical foundations. In music therapy and special education, Threlfall (Australia) shared her application of "ArtStories" core principles to support the process of change in a school community: A). connecting people, ideas and purpose, B). sharing stories of people, place and practice, C). exploring past, present and future possibilities and D). being inventive and open to learning from the unexpected.

Turry (USA) reported positive effects of "Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy," an approach involving interactive, improvisational music-making, on the communication and social interaction skills of preschool children with autism spectrum disorders. Furman and Kaplan (USA) demonstrated the use of an "Orff Music Therapy" approach to develop reciprocal language for individuals with autism.

While Kaplan and Furman also stressed a curriculum-based format for a "Lullaby 101" program for at-risk expectant and parenting teens and adults, Federico (Argentina) presented his work with creative visualizations using a "Focal Music Therapy in Obstetrics" approach with pregnant women to help with prenatal bonding.

Collaboration was identified as crucial for music therapists across and within disciplines and many different cultures represented at the World Congress. Rickson (New Zealand) utilizes a consultation model in school settings, where she enables other professionals to use music. She has achieved positive results through action research and case studies. Heiderscheit and Jackson (USA) found collaboration survey data similar for both American and international music therapists. Cominardi (Italy) and Jackson jointly endeavored to overcome barriers in Italy and add new contributions to music therapy research in childhood education using functional collaboration, where people work together toward a common purpose and outcome and process are defined beforehand.

Heiderscheit's work with a poetry therapist in assisting families in lullaby creation for their hospitalized infants exemplified creative collaboration, where individuals come together to discover how to reach a predetermined goal, but the process is not yet clear. Not only did parents report they found great comfort in being able to develop a tool to help their infants, but they began to refer other parents for the service and doctors began to say this service should become standard practice.

Examples of innovative collaboration, where neither the outcome nor the process is predetermined, include design students helping to design new instruments for clients of music therapy students and Tait's (Australia) project with senior women producing instructional DVDs for young children in remote Aboriginal areas. Heiderscheit and Jackson posited that "understanding successful collaboration and building healthy collaborative relationships is integral to ensure that music therapy continues to grow and develop as a profession."

Another aspect of music therapy that is integral for ensuring the continued growth of the profession is research. Trondalen (Norway) and O'Callaghan (Australia) consider music therapy as an art form and a science. Silverman (USA) believes research can be more fruitful when utilizing a variety of methods. Kim (Korea) emphasized the importance of observing dual responses, both physical and psychological, in clinical research experiences. Trondalen stressed the need for a wide range of research and encouraged clinicians to conduct research within a variety of areas in order to bridge the knowledge gaps that exist.

Music therapists from around the world are not only building bridges of knowledge, but they are exploring how best to cross them, eliminating barriers and improving outcomes in health care and education. For the 13th World Congress of Music Therapy, we crossed the international dateline. We crossed cultures and must continue to do so. As Dr. Choi aptly stated, "Music therapy is for everyone." Let's collaborate and research how we can make this a reality around the world.

  1. Gao, T. (2006). An Introduction to Music Therapy. China: Army, Medicine, and Science Publisher.

  • Gilboa, A., Yehuda, N. and Amir, D. (2009). 'Let's talk music: A musical-communal project for enhancing communication among students of multi-cultural origin', Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 18: 1, 3 -- 31.
  • Tait, A. (2010). ArtStories: Arts-driven initiatives in education, health and community setting. In B. Hesser & H. N. Heinemann (Es.), Music as a natural resource: Solutions for social and economic issues compendium. (pp. 108-109.) New York: The International Council for Caring Communities (ICCC), United Nations Headquarters.
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