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Music Therapy and Group Work: Sound Company

Davies, Alison & Richards, Eleanor (2002). Music Therapy and Group Work: Sound Company. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Reviewed by Katrina McFerran

It is remarkable that this is one of the only texts to specifically address music therapy group work across a range of clientelle. As this work becomes a more common intervention in therapy settings, it is increasingly important for music therapists to articulate their experiences of working with groups. Although this changing emphasis is as much driven by economic necessity as by client need, music therapy as group work is unique in its nonverbal and creative potential. This text successfully provides a series of powerful descriptions that capture this capacity. Most of the authors write about their work with clients using improvisation, which I have previously argued is the most difficult aspect of music therapy group work to capture in words. However, in this text the task is admirably achieved, leaving the music therapy reader with a strong sense of commonality and understanding.

The editors suggest that two questions underpin this text. First, why work in groups, and second, why use music to do this work. Both of these questions are addressed with finesse, however Stewart also reminds us not to disregard the simple importance of pleasure in the shared creative process for clients who grapple with complex and constant challenge in their lives. Nonetheless, some of the key issues highlighted by the range of authors include establishing a group; making music therapy accessible for clients; the provision of structure and containment; balancing the needs of the individual and the group; and the unique contribution of music in this work. Chapters describe setting up groups in forensic settings, special schools, universities, the community and a range of other institutions. Each setting has its own unique challenges, whether it be educating the team regarding the role of music in groups, or welcoming the verbal client into a non-verbal experience. In some settings the context of the group is emphasised in order to highlight the particular issues that are considered significant by the music therapist, while in others the reflective properties of the music itself are in the spotlight, with a diagnostic or process-bound focus.

Most of the authors answer the question of “why music?” within an analytic framework. In fact, there is a great deal of repetition between chapters as the authors justify the therapeutic process by drawing on the work of Stern, Bion, Winnicott and Foulkes. As a first step into the discussion of group work in music therapy, this provides a solid basis. However, a vocabulary that is indigenous to music therapy can also be found within this text. It is well articulated and supported by the amount of repetition between descriptions, suggesting many commonalities that are unique to music therapists’ understanding of group dynamics. For example, the role of the group leader is discussed at length and a particular emphasis emerges regarding the need for containment within music therapy group improvisations. Some authors discuss this within the musical material itself, highlighting the importance of listening and providing musical structures for clients who may take a long time to produce sound or for whom complete freedom may be chaotic. They also note the complexities of supporting the individual as well as the whole group, both in sound and in dynamics. Others outline the unique role of music therapy group leaders in establishing the group, educating co-workers about what the experience may elicit and how they wish to respond in order to contain it at a structural level. Thus, although the analytic framework is popular, it is also challenged by the authors who work with non-verbal clients that cannot necessarily process the experience, but for whom it has undoubtedly been useful.

In response to the editors questions regarding what is being communicated in music therapy groups and why, there are still many answers to be discovered. The fascinating and diverse descriptions contained in this text begin this process and the repetition can be perceived as constructive rather than monotonous. Although few authors mention the use of songs, particularly those working with adult populations, it would seem that the issues discussed by the authors are not limited to the musical material created in group improvisations – as the very title of the text suggests. They clearly identify that the music therapy process begins with the conceptualisation of a group and ends with the processing that takes place after the final group meeting. This is evidence that the musical process does not need to remain purely in improvisation, but can also encompass other ways of working musically with clients in groups. A fascinating text, describing a range of clients – I highly recommend it.

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