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Combined Book Review of Qualitative Music Therapy Research and Multiple Perspectives

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Langenberg, Mechtild, Aigen, Kenneth & Frömmer, Jorg (Eds.)(1996). Qualitative Music Therapy Research: Beginning Dialogues. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.

Smeijsters, Henk (1997). Multiple Perspectives: A Guide to Qualitative Research in Music Therapy. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.

Reviewed by Michael L. Zanders, Temple University

This review examines two books that emerged from the first international symposium for qualitative research in music therapy, held in Düsseldorf Germany in 1994. The purpose of the symposium was to inaugurate an international discourse on the nature of qualitative research in music therapy, and the specific research models developed by the featured speakers. The first book, Qualitative Music Therapy Research: Beginning Dialogues, edited by Mechtild Langenberg, Kenneth Aigen, and Jorg Frömmer (1996), is a collection of carefully crafted scholarly communications about the many topics and issues that arose from the symposium. The second book, Multiple Perspectives: A Guide to Qualitative Research in Music Therapy, written by Henk Smeijsters (1997) is a continuing dialogue from the symposium, further elaborating on Smeijsters’ chapters in the first book.

Qualitative Music Therapy Research: Beginning Dialogues is divided into two parts. Part one is a set of “monologues” that present six different qualitative research approaches developed by the presenters at the symposium, including Kenneth Aigen (USA), Dorit Amir (Israel), Kenneth Bruscia (USA), Jorg Frömmer (Germany), Carolyn Bereznak Kenny (Canada), Michael Langenbach (Germany), Mechtild Langenberg (Germany), and Henk Smeijsters (Netherlands). Part two is a set of “dialogues” among the presenters and attendants of the symposium. The purpose of the dialogues was to begin a scholarly exchange about the main issues that emerged from discussions during the symposium and of the previously mentioned monologues that were written by the presenters after the symposium.

The monologues clearly represent the unique and diverse views of each author with regard to qualitative research; however some collective themes emerge. The first theme is that a qualitative researcher must maintain an ongoing awareness of his/her own background or context. This includes one’s own interests, biases, and values, as they relate to the research study. Second, from the outset of the research project, the researcher must strive to uphold standards of “trustworthiness” or “integrity” for the research, no matter what standards each researcher may have. Third, when the researcher is also the clinician, efforts must be made to keep the research process separate, in some way, from the therapy process. Fourth, qualitative research allows the researcher to remain open throughout the research process to study the experience(s) of participants, but does not accomplish this by experimental control or traditional scientific methods, as seen in quantitative research. The fifth and final theme is that qualitative research describes the essence of music therapy, because it encapsulates the experience of the music, therapist, and client.

In the monologues, each author gives a flavor of their own approach to qualitative research, while also examining various methodological and epistemological issues that inhere in their own work and in qualitative research in general. The ideas presented in these monologues are rich and creative, and while they provide a springboard for designing qualitative research, they are theoretically advanced, and perhaps not accessible to novice researchers. It was also interesting to notice that, in their monologues, certain authors tried to establish the value of qualitative research by disparaging the premises and practices of quantitative research. For this reviewer, when the value of qualitative research is debated by claiming that there is no or very little value in quantitative research, it makes the case for qualitative research in music therapy weaker rather than stronger. Qualitative and quantitative paradigms are complementary or even contrasting, but not in opposition. One might even say they balance one another. Admittedly, their epistemologies are different, but proponents of one paradigm should neither exclude nor devalue the other. Arguments can be made for comparisons and contrasts, but these should be based only on the quality of the research, regardless of the paradigm.

The dialogues offer something quite different from the monologues, and expand the reader’s view of what transpired at the symposium. The dialogues are not written in the same academic manner as the monologues, but instead are more conversational and intimate exchanges between various authors and participants of the symposium. One group of authors extended and expanded upon the ideas they presented in the monologues, and this provided further insight into their work. Another group wrote brief memos to different participants in the symposium, commenting on or reacting to their monologues. In some cases, these dialogues resembled the argumentation style of the monologues, in that, here again, certain authors tried to establish or defend the value of their own approach by criticizing others. A third group of authors used their dialogues to contextualize the diverse perspectives taken by the authors and participants of the symposium. In these contextualizing dialogues, differences among the approaches were respected, and all of the approaches were given equal value. For this reviewer, this particular group of dialogues provided a rich palette for understanding the diverse colors of qualitative research, practice, and theory.

Undoubtedly, this book commences the history of qualitative research in music therapy, and will serve as a stimulating and provocative basis for future endeavors. Interestingly, in fact, in the very next year, Henk Smeijsters continued the dialogues begun at the Düsseldorf symposium by writing his own book, entitled Multiple Perspectives: A Guide to Qualitative Research in Music Therapy.

Smeijsters’ book is also divided into two parts. Part one is labeled as “qualitative research in general.” In this first part, the first two chapters discuss qualitative research, and the third chapter is on the benefits and limitations of quantitative research. Part two is labeled as “examples of qualitative research in music therapy” and is implicitly separated into different parts. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 provide examples of qualitative research in music therapy including phenomenology, grounded theory, and morphology respectively. Each of these chapters consists of the general principles for each particular approach and the research steps needed to perform the research. Chapters 7, 8, 9 and 10 discuss and critique the research approaches of some of the qualitative researchers from the Düsseldorf symposium. Chapter 11 is a further discussion of Smeijsters own qualitative research approach. Chapter12 discusses miscellaneous qualitative research designs, and finally in chapter 13, he presents the overall state of qualitative research in music therapy.

The purpose of the book is to continue the dialogues that developed at the symposium between Smeijsters and the other presenters, and to explore various research methods in music therapy. Smeijsters’ aim is not to provide a single method of qualitative research but, as the title implies, to present multiple perspectives of the diverse methodology. In relation to this aim, Smeijsters makes an engaging statement “Taking part in a dialogue does not mean looking for what is ‘true’ or ‘false’ but assessing the coordinates of your own position in a luxurious landscape of possibilities.”

In this book, Smeijsters further develops his initial presentation in one of the monologues from Qualitative Music Therapy Research: Beginning Dialogues. He begins by delineating both the benefits and limitations of quantitative research. The first idea is that the quantitative paradigm allows the researcher to measure whether something “changes” through experimental manipulation. The second idea is that choosing a qualitative method does not “relieve researchers of the obligation to comply with scientific criteria,” (page, 24). Third, both research paradigms ask the same fundamental questions, although the answers are fundamentally different. For example, the discovery of patterns in qualitative research is similar to the chain of evidence in quantitative research, which answers the fundamental question of internal validity (page, 44). Another fundamental question shared by the paradigms is that of external validity, that is that findings of any research study should be of help or value in another context (page, 44).

Smeijsters notes that the terms one would typically use in quantitative research, such as reliability and validity, are comparable with terms one would typically use in qualitative research, such as credibility and transferability. For other qualitative researchers featured in the Düsseldorf symposium, the terminology in qualitative research was not developed to be used to match or correspond to quantitative research. They were developed so that a qualitative researcher would still be able to maintain integrity and authenticity in the research process. Thus from the very beginning, Smeijsters places himself in a position that is different from his colleagues at the symposium. He freely admits that his position stems from having a background in quantitative research, and that for him, moving into a qualitative approach still requires strict adherence to scientific guidelines, along with a clear understanding of how qualitative and quantitative paradigms differ. However, for this reviewer, aligning the two paradigms in parallel fashion is not the issue. The issue is that the two research paradigms have different purposes that cannot be combined and are not interchangeable; yet each has its specific applications and values. Thus, they do not need to have parallel terms and concepts.

Smeijsters dedicates much of the first part of the book to comparing and contrasting the two research paradigms. In doing this, he seems to be challenging the arguments, and perhaps even countering the “attacks” made against him at the symposium. His main idea of proposing a single-case research design, first presented at the symposium and then further expanded here, seems defensive because he continues to build arguments for his idea, by criticizing the arguments made against him. Like in the first book, an underlying theme is that one research method or approach is proven valuable by devaluing the other. For this reason, the novice researcher may still find it unclear whether the two paradigms can be combined, and if not, how one decides which paradigm to choose. Smeijsters answers that “we (researchers) should incorporate both methods into music therapy research in such a way that the chosen method of research depends on the question and the object to be studied, rather than the other way around. A research method is a means, not an end” (page, 35).

Smeijsters’ approach to qualitative research is intriguing, if not genuine. But, there are still aspects of this part of the book that are perplexing. They certainly raised some basic questions for this reviewer. Is it his intention to take what he considers the “best” qualities from each research paradigm and create a completely new paradigm? Or, is he developing a new method for performing qualitative research in music therapy? The obvious answer would appear to be the latter option, because his single-case research design is a new approach to performing qualitative research. Unfortunately, this is not readily grasped because in devoting a significant amount of writing to challenging his critics from the symposium, Smeijsters does not provide the details about his own approach needed to recognize its fundamental value for the field.

It is interesting to note that, in Qualitative Music Therapy Research: Beginning Dialogues, Kenneth Bruscia created a mythical story to represent the symposium, and in it typified Smeijsters “as the group member who takes a compass and a map book to make the mysteries of the (research) labyrinth accessible to all,” (Smeijsters, preface). Smeijsters does this admirably with the second part of his book, which provides approaches to qualitative research in music therapy.

In chapter 4-6, he provides a fertile ground by which novice qualitative researchers can plant ideas for performing qualitative research. He accomplishes this by providing a framework to understanding the different approaches, which guide the reader with the direction needed to carry out the specific method for each approach mentioned. This framework is useful because it offers the reader sufficient background information, such as philosophical ideas, methodological principles, and procedural steps for performing the research.

In chapters 7-10, Smeijsters continues directing the reader through qualitative research approaches developed by his colleagues at the symposium; but in these chapters, he does not provide the same structure or framework. It appears that Smeijsters, under the guise of presenting the ideas, actually is still debating or stating his disagreements with the different research approaches. For this reviewer, because Smeijsters does not follow the same framework he did in the first couple of chapters the information appears more like opinion and debate. A more suitable approach would have been for him to follow the same structure of the first few chapters by providing the necessary background needed to use each research approach. As a result, these chapters may not allow the reader to form an opinion or place a value on each approach presented. The underlying theme of “devaluing” an approach still runs through these chapters.

In chapters 11-13, Smeijsters concludes with presenting a “map book.” He does this by again presenting his qualitative research approach, and then presenting miscellaneous qualitative research approaches. He guides the reader, although briefly, through other types of approaches and methods. From these final chapters Smeijsters is focusing on qualitative research ideas, but ceases making the comparisons and contrasts with quantitative research; nevertheless, he is still situated between both research paradigms and still separates himself from some of his colleagues’ and their approaches. In these last chapters, he presents the overall picture of qualitative research in music therapy but again from the perspective of how his qualitative researcher colleagues view quantitative research and its place in music therapy. For this reviewer, there is an underlying agenda that is not easily understood. Perhaps, just presenting these last chapters from a qualitative perspective and a designed framework would have concluded the book suitably.

Both of these books have real value for the field of music therapy because the authors/editors present research ideas for qualitative music therapy research, and not just qualitative research. The authors, through presenting their individual approaches, provide the foundation by which other music therapy researchers can then build further qualitative research approaches. Essentially, these efforts unlock a whole new area of music therapy, and historically, both of these books will have continued value because of that unlocking. Both books are well written and informative, and even researchers in fields outside of music therapy can find value in examining these approaches to qualitative research. Beginning these dialogues must have been and arduous though rewarding undertaking.

Although both of these books have been reviewed together, they do not have to be read in any particular order. Henk Smeijsters continues with the approach he presented in the first book into the second book, however Smiejsters’s book has sufficient information and background that the book can be read separately from the Langenberg, Aigen, and Frömmer book. One of the main differences between the two books is that the Smeijsters’s book, as a whole, discusses more about methodology and the techniques of qualitative research. The Langenberg, Aigen, and Frömmer book discusses approaches to performing qualitative research.

Qualitative Music Therapy Research: Beginning Dialogues is more suitable for the experienced qualitative researcher. There are a few discussions on basic qualitative research ideas like phenomenology and hermeneutics, but there is not enough discussion to fully explain them to a novice qualitative researcher. Multiple Perspectives: A Guide to Qualitative Research in Music Therapy, initially, may create some conflict with experienced and non-qualitative researchers, but the second part of the book is a resource for finding approaches and ideas to performing qualitative research for anyone, experienced or not.

I recommend both books to all music therapists who want to learn more about new horizons of research in the field.

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