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Clinical Training Guide for the Student Music Therapist

Wheeler, Barbara L., Carol L. Shultis & Donna W. Polen (2005). Clinical Training Guide for the Student Music Therapist. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.

br2006_073I showed this book to a colleague and highlighted for her the extraordinary number of combined years of experience of the three authors. She described the authors as “those who have lived to tell the tale of how to live to tell the tale.” I can only concur. The book is written from the perspective of a wealth of experience and skills in music therapy student supervision on-site as well as course teaching.

The first author, Professor Barbara Wheeler, Professor and Director of Music Therapy at the University of Louisville Kentucky is a distinguished and productive contributor to the field of music therapy and is well known internationally. Carol Shultis is Director of Music Therapy and Recreation for Forbes Health System in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and has been the Clinical Training Director there since 1981. The third author Donna Polen is Music Therapy Co-ordinator for a developmental disability service in Newark, New York. Remarkably she has provided training to 60 interns since 1983. Without reading a word of the book I would have had confidence in the product from the combined experience of these authors. At the same time a collaborative book about music therapy clinical training is welcome. There are many and varied component parts of competent clinical practice therefore the wider the experience base for a book’s authorship, the more confidence we can have in its relevance and usefulness for our teaching. In addition, the outstanding contribution of Anthony Meadows in primarily authoring the chapter on assessment should also be acknowledged.

The strengths of the book lie in its clarity of structure. Eighteen chapters outline the music therapy process. Each could be used as stand alone reading matter or as the basis for a seminar. Alternatively any grouping of chapters could be used to structure a series of clinical classes.

Each of the chapters concludes with a number of assignments. These are directed at three levels of students – Level 1 is primarily for the student who is at the early stage of observing, participating and assisting. Level 2 is directed at the student who is planning and co-leading sessions, and level 3 is aimed at the student who is leading and directing sessions independently.

Other excellent teaching texts such as Suzanne Hanser’s The New Music Therapist’s Handbook (2000) and the Handbook of Music Therapy edited by Leslie Bunt and Sarah Hoskyns (2002) also provide an introduction and overview of the field for students. This new book however is distinct in that approaches and methods with different populations are discussed within chapters. The overarching structure of the book focuses on the music therapy process; from planning through to conducting sessions and then documentation.
While the book is clearly intended for the music therapy student in the USA, it is possible that European programmes could consider incorporating the book into teaching, at least as supplementary reading. For postgraduate programmes, the book could be used to teach students in the introductory phase of their practice training, or where practice training is necessarily brief in some countries the book could be used as pre-reading for the course. The book could be used as a resource for clinical site supervisors or could be used as the basis of teaching clinical skills during classes in training.

It is worthy of comment that every single reference is included thoughtfully, with demonstrable clarity as to the authors comprehension of its content and context. This book models perfectly for the music therapy student, the depth of understanding required to cite texts.

A further strength is the linking of theory to practice. Students can find it difficult to understand why they need to have any theoretical frameworks in the practice of music therapy – they can be desperate to get into the clinical work and feel frustrated at needing to ‘know’ about the ideas that underlie the different ways of working.

For an early stage student, this book could act as an exemplar of why theory is not just required but also useful. At the same time the student is directed to useful further reading giving the welcome impression that ideas in music therapy are linked into and grow out from practice; there are not two separate entities “theory” and “practice” in the field of music therapy.

There are no major weaknesses in this text and I heartily recommend its use in clinical teaching. At the same time I must point out that while the A4 format suits the function of the book, occasionally the book can fall open with two dense pages of text staring up. This might be a little overwhelming for some students grappling with ideas in the early stage of training. Also, very occasionally there are too many diverse concepts referenced without explanation. While this mirrors the reality of practice, a text book form of these ideas perhaps requires some greater distinctions to be made. For example in the first chapter there is a paragraph which mentions long-term residential facilities, professional boundaries, and “therapeutic distance” within a few sentences. Each of these notions probably requires their own paragraph to help the student with the fact they are not necessarily interdependent. With directed reading however this would be easily addressed.

I anticipate that many generations of students will give thanks for this book. The authors are to be commended for an excellent contribution to the field of music therapy.


Bunt, Leslie & Sarah Hoskyns (Eds.) (2002). The handbook of music therapy. London: Routledge.

Hanser, Suzanne (2000). The new music therapist’s handbook. (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Berklee Press.

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