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The Handbook of Music Therapy

br2002_025Bunt, Leslie and Hoskyns, Sarah (Eds.)(2002). The Handbook of Music Therapy. East Sussex, UK: Brunner-Routledge.

Reviewed by Felicity Baker, Coordinator of the Music Therapy Training Program, Brisbane, Australia.

As a music therapist now in the role of educating some of the Australian music therapists of the future, I am always in search of the “perfect” introductory music therapy text book. I was invited to review Bunt and Hoskyns’ book with this in mind. At the present moment, there are a few new texts which fall into this category. Hanser’s The New Music Therapy Handbook (1999) (see review by Cochavit Elefant ), Peters’ Music Therapy, An Introduction (2000) (see review in NJMT, 2001, 10(1)), Wigram, Pedersen and Bonde’s (2002) A Comprehensive Guide to Music Therapy and Bunt and Hoskyn’s book reviewed here. I began to question what material would comprise a “perfect” introductory text. In my opinion, it is very culturally based. What would be an excellent introductory text in the UK would be quite different in Australia. Please bare this in mind as you read your review that I am reviewing this book from an Australian perspective.

After reading the text, I began to question what the term handbook really means, and is the title of this book appropriate. According to the Oxford dictionary, the word Handbook is defined as a “A compendious book or treatise for guidance in any art, occupation, or study”. This definition implies that a handbook provides either a concise, succinct, summary of the discipline of music therapy or guidance in how to practice music therapy or think about music therapy? In looking to handbooks in other allied health disciplines, and from discussions with a number of my music therapy colleagues, I concluded that a handbook should function as a reference tool, a book to refer to for brief, concise summaries to a variety of topics concerning our discipline. It should function as a starting point of reference before directing the reader towards more specific, detailed literature, and should act as a guide providing suggestions of how to go about practicing the discipline. My evaluation of this text with regard to its suitability as a handbook will be discussed throughout this review.

Chapter 1 of Part I introduces the reader to the music therapy profession in the UK. Even for the non-British music therapists, I think this material is relevant as we have the opportunity to reflect on how it differs from the profession in our own countries. For the novice music therapists, the description of the music therapy literature by music therapists in the UK may assist them in becoming familiar with the names of important music therapy contributors in the UK. In one sense, this chapter is framed as part of handbook, providing this information in a clear and succinct manner.

Parts of Chapter 2 certainly fall within the structure of a handbook, detailing the practicalities and principles of implementing a music therapy session. Such concepts such as providing appropriate space, the set-up of a room, and choice and range of musical instruments are very briefly introduced. Discussion surrounding boundaries – the physical, ethical and professional – provide clear information to the novice music therapist. Further in this chapter, some theoretical material is introduced – holding and containment, and, transference and countertransference. This material is presented clearly but lacks some clear directions of the “how to”, which I consider important in the context of a handbook. This is especially important for novice music therapists who may be strong theoretically but are in need of concrete guidelines and instructions when beginning to practice clinically.

In Chapter 3, Bunt and Hoskyns introduce us to four music therapists they have interviewed – Jean Eisler, Helen Odell-Miller, Elaine Streeter and Tony Wigram. Small snippets of these interviews are inserted at various points throughout the text, reflecting on various concepts presented by the editors of the book. While I find the material provided me with delightful insights into the minds of these four prominent music therapy practitioners, I view this material as out of place. I don’t understand its purpose or role within the frame of a handbook.

Part II comprises of 6 chapters on the clinical work of 6 leading music therapy clinicians in the UK – Bunt, Brown, Watson, Durham, Sloboda (in collaboration with Bolton – musician and teacher) and Odell-Miller, covering the clinical fields of early intervention, autism, neurology, learning disabilities, forensic psychiatry and dementia. Generally these were interesting, adding new perspectives on what outcomes might be achieved when providing music therapy programs to these clinical populations. However again, there was little description of the “how to” (with the exception of Watson’s chapter). What specific skills were adopted? Perhaps more descriptions of the clinical techniques used rather than such a strong focus on the outcomes would be of benefit. Watson’s chapter on learning disabilities was well structured including a theoretical framework followed by a section on “theory into practice”. Here, there was a clear connection between theory and music therapy techniques.

Part III focuses on the clinical training of music therapists. It was this section that impressed me the most. It provided practical examples of how novice music therapists could practice and enhance skills such as observation. They allow the novice assistance in identifying what is an important event/response in a session and what is not, or whether anything has happened at all. Bunt and Hoskyns also provide a comprehensive summary of material one could consider when observing responses in a music therapy session (p. 176). Similarly, they have provided a series of exercises, which aim to train the ability to distinguish between an objective observation and a personal judgement. Their labelling of the two types of observations as “watching” and “wondering” are clear and useful. Also, they provide exercises to help students focus on different facets of observation – behaviour, interaction and music. This section of the text was well constructed and fits the frame of a handbook.

In Chapter 11, there is a detailed description of the types of choices music therapists must make in planning and preparing for an initial music therapy session. They ask important questions such as “how many instruments should I set out in the therapy room?” and offer thoughts about how the music therapist could answer the question dependent on the context. Bunt and Hoskyns continue by providing some practical exercises for developing skills in accompanying – such as reflecting and matching, holding and containing, and working with words/lyrics. These are well thought out exercises but perhaps could have been incorporated earlier in the book to tie in with the theory and examples of their use in clinical work.

In my opinion, Chapter 12 is the weakest part of the book. It is intended to provide exercises students could use to develop their improvisation techniques. However, I found the material was poorly presented in that the instructions were not clear, especially when compared with Robbins and Robbins (1998) whose material is very clear. As an educator, I would have difficulty explaining to students how they could use this material to improve their improvisatory skills.

Part IV concentrates on the professional life of the music therapist. First, Chapter 13 focuses on the everyday working life of a music therapist and in my opinion, is one of the strengths of the book. It provides relevant and important information about how to create a job, how to run workshops or information sessions, and how to prioritise referrals. It also offers some clear information about accepting referrals, assessing and writing reports.

Chapter 14 comprises information about research in music therapy and does provide a useful quick reference to terms and styles of research. Page 275 had various terms in bold – for example paradigm, ontological etc – which I had anticipated would be listed and explained in a glossary – there is no glossary.

The topic of Chapter 15 is GIM, which provides a useful but quite long description of the method via a long case study. It is interesting and well worth reading but again perhaps too long for the context of a handbook.

In summary, I have found the text to be interesting and useful in stimulating thoughts about various concepts, and worthy of a place on your music therapy bookshelf. My main critique concerns its title. It is not structured like or comprehensive enough to be considered a handbook. There are several major areas lacking if it was to be a handbook. In the world of medicine focusing on outcome measures, there was no description of constructing goals and how one might devise suitable means of evaluating these (although Watson’s chapter did provide an example of how she assessed her client in the case study). Further, while there was discussion about approaches based on psychoanalytic theory and the influence of Wilber on music therapy practice, there was little mention of other approaches. Although Nordoff and Robbins are mentioned intermittently, the term Creative Music Therapy is not even listed in the subject index.


Hanser, Suzanne (1999). The New Music Therapy Handbook. Boston, MA: Berklee Press.

Robbins, Clive, and Robbins, Carol (Eds). (1998). Healing heritage : Paul Nordoff exploring the tonal language of music. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.

Peters, Jacqueline Schmidt (2000). Music Therapy: An Introduction. Springfield, Ill: C.C. Thomas Publishers.

Wigram, Tony, Pedersen , Inge N. & Bonde, Lars Ole (2000). A Comprehensive guide to music therapy: theory, clinical practice, research and training. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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