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Music Therapy Research: Second Edition

br2006_072Wheeler, Barbara L. (2005). Music Therapy Research: Second Edition. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers. 586 pages. ISBN 1-891278-26-6.

Barcelona Publishers with Barbara Wheeler as editor have done a great service to the field of music therapy with the release of the second edition of Music Therapy Research. This is a major revision of the first edition, with new chapters, new authors and new themes included. It is quite a lot more comprehensive, making it a major advance compared to the first edition. This book actually replaces the first one, which Wheeler also edited, and which itself was a major step forward within literature on music therapy research. The first edition was a pioneer work, being one of the very first, if not the first, to bring together two different main approaches to music therapy research in one volume, that is to say, both quantitative and qualitative research. But even so, the second edition is upgraded now to such a degree that it leaves the first entirely behind.

Let me state this right at the outset: This is a must-have. If you do not purchase it yourself, tell your local university or college librarian that the first edition now is outdated, and that it will no longer do. Any serious library having any kind of music therapy collection should have this book as a necessary part of their collection. This means to say that it is more than recommended, I would say that it is mandatory. Anyone engaged in the theme of music therapy research will need to know this book, unless credibility is to drop dramatically. Why? – For several reasons. This book is an excellent collection of articles covering just about the entire spectrum of music therapy research. Barbara Wheeler has done a very good job in getting the most representative writers within their respective specialities to cover their own areas. But this does not mean that this is just a collection of well-edited, competently written articles covering a wide range of relevant issues. The book is also put together in a systematic way which makes it useful far beyond any such collection of articles; however intrinsically interesting each may be. The choice of themes, some of them actually new to the music therapy literature, and the way they are put together is well considered, and constitutes a very appropriate collection both as a whole, and as a set of interrelated, crossreferenced parts, chapters and sections within the whole.

The book is divided into five parts. The first part is a general overview of the field of music therapy research. Now although it is true that this part indeed may serve as a general introduction, as Wheeler suggests, anyone, on any level actually, may benefit from reading these systematic introductions, on account of their quality and systematic expositions. In the first chapter Wheeler gives an overview of music therapy research, according to some of the distinctions into various kinds of research that are in common use. Furthermore, she asks some highly relevant, not to say crucial questions regarding the relation between research and clinical practice. This is a pertinent opening for a book as comprehensive as this one. It is about the basic question regarding what research is good for. And Wheeler does not point to, or even suggest that there are simple, straightforward answers here. But she does bring out the issue in a way that makes it not dismissible from any side you want to look at it. It actualizes the contents of all the following articles of the book.

Jane Edwards gives a comprehensive overview of the (English language) research sources, and points to the relative lack of cross-citations between refereed journals within the field. – An opportune reminder. With this kind of chapter at hand there is less of an excuse not to include the full range of research articles available! Even Ruud draws a broad picture, in a necessarily limited space, of the field of philosophy and theory of science. He stresses the need for multiple perspectives and for reflexivity, which this chapter indeed may spur. In this first part of the book two chapters follow on principles of quantitative and qualitative research respectively. Carol Prickett gives a straightforward, informative account of different kinds of quantitative research within the field. Barbara Wheeler and Carolyn Kenny outline different approaches to qualitative research, and finally Jane Edwards and Debra Burns give some valuable advice regarding research-funding and applying for grants, this practical side to research also being attended to.

Whereas the first part of the book gives an overview of kinds of research within the field, both quantitative and qualitative, the second part deals with the research process, starting with Kenneth Bruscia’s exposition of research topics and questions in music therapy. This is thorough and systematic, as might be expected by anyone familiar with Bruscia’s writings. The chapter contains a veritable checklist of kinds of research questions that may be asked. And Bruscia also gracefully suggests going further on one’s own. Wheeler continues with a chapter on developing a topic, which constitutes a next natural step in the logic of a research process, pointing to inherent differences here between qualitative and quantitative research. Cheryl Dileo then gives a no-nonsense practical chapter on writing a literature review, in a step by step “how to” manner. Then follow a series of chapters dealing with the research process, as this relates somewhat differently to quantitative and qualitative approaches. Designing research, statistical methods of analysis, computer programs for quantitative research, data analysis and software tools for qualitative research, writing the research report, and evaluating each kind of research respectively, and also, importantly, the ethical precautions that necessarily are involved.

There is a lot of highly relevant material presented here as to the research process, and that is presented by well-informed, experienced researchers within the field. I have to say I did like, for instance, Ken Aigen’s chapter on writing the qualitative research report, which goes far beyond just writing technicalities, into problems and issues related to different aspects of writing, brought out in an exciting way as to all the kinds of options that may be available here. This of course reflects some of my own bias towards qualitative approaches. But whatever one’s own bias or orientation may be, I think it is a great bonus of the book, taking both qualitative and quantitative research into account, in this way clarifying each by comparison with the other. This becomes clear in Aigen’s chapter where he brings out the features of qualitative report writing by contrasting it with the quantitative.

The authors on the whole take somewhat converging stances, some stressing more than others that methods or at least techniques, to use Wheeler’s distinction, could be combined or mixed, while others, without necessarily being unduly one-sided, still adhere to a particular position. Of course, nothing else would be possible, given the diversity of approaches. The book on the whole strikes a delicate balance both ways, it seems to me, not ruling out one part entirely in favour of the other, still leaving room enough for each side to take a stand. But most of all there is an inclusive attitude manifested, opening for multiple approaches and perspectives.

The three last parts of the book deal more in depth with as much as 21 different methods of research under the headings of quantitative, qualitative and “other research”, which is to say musical, philosophical, theory development, and historical research. I would not even want to pretend that I was an expert or in any way similarly versed in each and every of these methods and their various techniques, based on different paradigms. But reading through them all certainly constitutes a tour de force of what kinds of research that has been carried out within the field of music therapy, because each chapter not only presents and gives an exposition of the research method at hand, but illustrates in each case how and to which extent each has been carried out related to music therapy research. This makes reading these chapters intrinsically interesting and informative, and taken together they give an overview of the state of music therapy research. In addition to this, and primarily of course, these chapters are designed as tools for carrying out music therapy research projects, by each giving a clear and focused exposition of the principles and techniques involved. The instances of music therapy research referred to in each chapter serve as examples or models of research in this context.

These chapters will not by themselves give a sufficient background to carry out all these respective approaches to research, though. Conferring with a psychology professor colleague of mine well versed and experienced in quantitative research methodology, it became clear that the chapters and sections on quantitative research were uneven as to their precision and content, at least as he regarded them. He was very critical to some chapters, finding them lacking in many respects, and actually containing quite some amount of misunderstandings and faults. Without going into any detail here, this might serve as a reminder that the authors represented in this book are not necessarily experts in the respective research methods and techniques as such, but rather have used what they have found to be relevant and appropriate methods specifically for music therapy research. This means that the chapters are kept close to the field of music therapy, which is the main strength and usefulness of the book, without necessarily being the most qualified presentations to be found of the different research methods presented. In other words, the book needs to be supplied with the literature dealing with the particular method or technique of choice. This of course goes for both qualitative and quantitative methods. In this way the book serves mostly as an overview, opening doors into many different approaches to research. And this, obviously, is what it has been intended to do, rather than giving the readers complete and accurate accounts of each and every research method as such.

Given this angle, I would say that Barbara Wheeler has done a very good job in finding the right person (or persons), being (relatively) most competent and experienced for each topic, often what must be regarded as a leading figure within each approach. I addition to this there seems to have been a very structured frame for writing each chapter that each author has had to adhere to, and a thorough editing process, making each chapter accessible and also comparable to the others. The format of each chapter seems to be long enough to convey quite a wealth of information, though overall not too long, to become redundant, or overly packed and unmanageable. This makes this collection a very useful tool for browsing, reading different chapters up against each other, in order to make one’s own, preliminary at least, judgment as to the relevance of each method or technique according to the research one is planning to carry out. And having decided one way or the other the references constitute a path for further explorations, as necessary.

The topics that are covered for quantitative research are experimental research, survey research, meta-analysis, which has gained an increased importance in documenting effects of music therapy, (which, by the way, my psychology professor colleague actually rather liked), qualitative single case designs, and applied behaviour analysis. This does seem to cover the most central research methods within this paradigm. Coming to qualitative research there are chapters on phenomenological, hermeneutic, and naturalistic inquiry, sorting out their respective features and characteristics; grounded theory, already going back some 40 years now; first-person research, an exciting and actually many-sided method that Bruscia brings out the relevance of; ethnography and participatory action research which Brynjulf Stige recommends and claims holds great promises for future research; narrative inquiry, with Carolyn Kenny as a natural author of choice, having made ample use of narrative in her own research and writing. In addition to these come Morphological Research (E. Weymann and R. Tüpker) mainly a German tradition, and of which it should be noted that it is a significant contribution in itself to make this available to an international (that is to say English speaking) audience. Furthermore there is a chapter on the qualitative case study, complementary to the chapter on quantitative case-studies; arts-based research, which Diane Austin and Michele Forinash are proponents for; and finally personal construct psychology and the repertory grid technique, which has also been applied to music therapy research. This represents indeed a broad and representative it seems, spectrum of qualitative methods.

In the last part of the book, as previously mentioned, comes music research, of which Lars Ole Bonde does give a very thorough and informed treatment, within the confines of this chapter. Then philosophical research, with Aigen as a profiled author, and a new chapter on developing theory in music therapy, an appropriate and timely theme to include, and which Bruscia delves into and brings to light. Lastly we find historical research in music therapy.

The great value of this work is that all chapters relate to music therapy research that has been carried out, at the same as possible future developments are pointed at. – Now music therapy has its own handbook of research, as other fields, like music education for instance, have had for some time now. Music therapy research, reflecting the diversity of the fields of practice, is indeed very wide. The ambitions are high. Of course, at the same time being relatively new, and also relatively – no, very – small, the levels attained within each of the diversified approaches may vary somewhat, and which is what must be expected. Nevertheless, bringing all this material, containing, on the whole I dare say, at least “good enough” presentations of what has actually been attempted within music therapy research, together in one volume may serve the practical purpose of becoming a common reference, which I believe it should. I expect it will be put up in the reading lists of music therapy courses, at all levels, around the world. Not as the final word, but maybe as the “first word”, the initial literature to check out. There will obviously be much to discuss and to critique, and to develop further, and to supply, but I do expect this will become a primary reference source for music therapy research for some time to come now. As a “map of the territory” it might well acquire a classic status. All in all I believe it is simply destined to become a much used and useful book.

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