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Music Therapy: Group Vignettes

br2004_038Borczon, Ronald M. (1997). Music Therapy: Group Vignettes. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers. 188 pages. ISBN 0-9624080-9-3.

Reviewed by Jenny Karnes, Music therapy intern, Radford University Radford, VA

Ronald Borczon wrote a very good book explaining exactly what “it” is that makes a good therapist. The book talks about the qualities of a music therapist, basic concepts of music therapy, strategies for intervention, different philosophies of music therapy, and several vignettes to portray these philosophies, concepts and interventions. The first four chapters in the book explain the qualities of the music therapist and concepts of music therapy, define and explore the basic relationships between music and life, and talk about structure, techniques, and therapeutic strategies. Chapters five through twelve are designed so that there is a chapter containing a philosophical discussion coupled with a second chapter containing a vignette of an actual session pertaining to the pervious chapter’s discussion. The final chapter in the book is a short description of how Borczon wrote his book and how he feels about music therapy.

The first chapter describes four qualities that a music therapist should have. These are qualities to think about, to be aware of, and to expand and grow in order to better the client’s musical experience. If you have ever wondered what “it” is exactly that makes a good music therapist, this chapter explains extremely well what “it” is. The qualities that a music therapist should have are presence, intuition, knowledge, and common sense.

Presence, which Borczon tells us can be seen on two different levels, is one of the most important qualities. This quality can build the trust of clients and prepare them for a successful and self-actualizing musical experience. The first level of presence is that of being physically there, ready to help out when needed. The second level of presence is described as a gift or an extension of oneself. The clients may feel or experience this kind of presence as empathy, which increases the chances for open expression.

Intuition is described as the immediate knowing or learning of something without the conscious use of reasoning. This quality can be seen as the sixth sense. It is that first instinct and seems to be based on experience, meaning that it would be refined and honed with age.

Knowledge is the learning of facts, retaining them, and then being able to apply them. This quality also has two different types. One type is book knowledge, which is the knowledge that is acquired through education. The other type is experiential knowledge, which is very important for all people. It is a self-knowledge that grows as the person grows. As this knowledge is increased, the philosophies and ideas of the person experiencing this knowledge are changed.

Common sense is a quality usually founded on a belief system that a person grew up with. It is a part of social norms and meets the standards of the every day world. Borczon explains common sense through imagining yourself in the role of your clients:

For a therapist, common sense also has to do with the basic factors of affect, voice tone, body language and therapeutic interaction. Imagine yourself in the client’s position looking at your face. Is it accepting, flat, smiling, cynical? Is your voice tone harsh, rough, too loud or soft for the moment? Is the pacing of your questions too fast or slow? Is body language open, or do you sit with arms and legs tightly crossed? What are some of the basic features that you would like to see in your therapist if you were a client? After you identify those features, you might say, it’s common sense to have them. (pg. 7).

Chapter two describes the basic relationships between music and life. It explores the musical elements of melody, texture, form, dynamics, harmony, rhythm, and timbre. These musical elements are important aspects of music that can also be described in life. For example, an easily understood element is that of dynamics. Speech has not only melody, but also dynamics that combine together in the expression of emotion. Loud dynamics in a person’s voice may relate to anger, whereas soft dynamics may relate to embarrassment or being unsure of oneself. This chapter is a good explanation in finding relationships between the music and the clients’ verbal and nonverbal behavior.

Chapters three and four describe the value of group therapy and talk about structures, techniques, and strategies for listening to and understanding the group. The basic structure of a music therapy session is outlined using the bell curve. Then there is a focus on the verbal, nonverbal, silence, and feeling of the group. I find all of these forms of communication to be important in creating a positive experience for the clients. These two chapters help the new music therapist to illuminate how to interpret and understand what may be communicated in a music therapy session.

The next eight chapters include vignette chapters that are each directly preceded by a chapter on a philosophical discussion of different interventions and models of music therapy. These philosophical discussions are then transferred to a music therapy session, which is the vignette in the next chapter. The music therapy vignettes created are actual sessions that Borczon recalled immediately after his session and wrote down. The vignettes describe not only what happened during the session and how it related to the previous chapter’s discussion, but Borczon also wrote out the thoughts and decisions that went through his mind during the session when particular events or actions in the group happened.

Another aspect of this book that I find enjoyable is that it is filled with quotes from scholars, therapists, poets, and other individuals. These inspiring and thoughtful quotes are placed directly after a title or section title with which it specifically relates. Also, because this book has section titles, it is easy to read and follow.

As a music therapy intern, I feel that Borczon’s book portrays and clarifies much of what I am thinking, feeling, or wondering. The first four chapters of this book can be especially helpful to new music therapists. As a young music therapy intern, I am trying to incorporate all that I have learned in college: methodology, theory, and clinical experiences. Reading this book was helpful in expanding my awareness and ways of communication with the clients. It provides many questions that I can ask myself, and that I will use when in a music therapy session. I recommend this book to all new music therapists, interns, and new therapists in other fields because I feel that this book accurately explains and gives words to what “it” is that makes a good therapist.

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