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Music Therapy and Parent-Infant Bonding

Music Therapy and Parent-Infant Bonding, edited by Jane Edwards, Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK (2011) ISBN 978-0-19-958051-4.

Wolfgang Schmid, University of Bergen

Music Therapy and Parent-Infant Bonding, edited by Jane Edwards, Oxford University Press, OxfordThe book Music Therapy and Parent-Infant Bonding edited by Jane Edwards presents a carefully compiled collection of work on music therapy and parent-infant bonding with the focus on infants and adults in challenging life-situations.

Within 13 chapters an international range of authors from Australia, Ireland, the UK, and the USA introduce and discuss current practice and research, showing how music therapy can contribute effectively to the promotion of attachment between primary caregivers and vulnerable infants.

The book is divided into an introduction and three sections, each with several chapters presenting a rich body of diverse perspectives and approaches to the field.
In the introduction the editor, Jane Edwards, discusses a selection of current theoretical formations about the musically primed infant, the musical relating in parent-infant communication, as well as findings on the parent-infant bonding and approaches in parent-infant music therapy. These four aspects function as a prelude for the whole book, guiding and preparing the reader for the subsequent chapters. In the first section examples for music therapy research and practice to reduce or prevent vulnerability in infancy are introduced. This includes the use of music therapy to assist the developing bond between traumatized children and their new adoptive parents (by Tiffany Drake), as well as music therapy for depressed mothers and their infants (by Alison Levinge). One chapter questions the role of music therapists when working together with parents and their children in music therapy (by Amelia Oldfield), another chapter evaluates the challenges and successes of parent-child group music therapy programs citing the Australian program Sing & Grow as a case example (by Kate E. Williams, Jan M. Nicholson, Vicky Abad, Louise Docherty and Donna Berthelsen).

Two contributions of group music therapy programs in a school-based-setting are presented in the second part of the book. One chapter portrays a project supporting families with an early-intervention group music therapy program (by Karen Kelly); the other chapter is a reflection on practical and professional aspects of extending group music therapy to families in schools (by Alison Ledger). In the other three chapters of this section, the chapters focus on music therapy with very young children and their parents or carers (by Margareta Burrell), the promotion of attachment between mother and baby in marginalized communities (by Joanna Cunningham), and music therapy to support mothers who have experienced abuse in childhood (by Toni Day and Helen Bruderer) is presented.

The third part of the book includes three chapters on music therapy in medical contexts: the first two chapters are about parents and newborn infants, translating infant-directed singing into a strategy for the hospitalized family (by Helen Shoemark), and on music therapy for hospitalized infants and their parents (Joanne V. Loewy). The third chapter discusses how music therapy can support parent-infant attachment in families affected by life-threatening cancer (by Clare O´Callaghan and Brigid Jordan).

With this variety of contributions and perspectives, the book presents several ways in which music therapists promote healthy relationships between the vulnerable infant and their vulnerable caregiver. With an emphasis on practical work presented in case studies and project reports, a foundation and consolidation for applied music therapy is given. The book underpins and extends existing publications on music therapy with children and their families in hospices, psychiatric units (Oldfield and Flowers, 2008), in neurorehabilitation (Gilbertson, 2008), and home based care (Schmid and Ostermann, 2007) in a fundamental way. The manifold, careful interweaving of practice and theory is a convincing strength of this book. It provides an excellent basis for further music therapy practice and research, and provides links to recent publications on communicative musicality as a basis of human companionship (Malloch and Trevarthen, 2008), and developmental psychology (Stern, 2010).

The congenital repertoire for musical communication and interaction in human beings provides a strong basis to promote secure bonding between infants and their caregivers in and with music. A multimodal, resource-based space is offered to the dyad or triad –of infant, parents and therapist and/or teachers- to safely explore, develop and renew relationship. On this background the book also provides strong arguments for music therapy as a preventive and early-intervention resource.

The immediacy and reflectiveness of how all authors share their experiences is an outstanding quality of this book. The open and very sensitive way of how each author presents and discusses her or his work, shows the facets of how a resource-guided music therapy perspective can be useful in complex vulnerable systems involving two, three and more people. The reader can easily access a close look to the challenges and questions and also to the power of the fragile therapeutic processes. The extension of music therapy not solely to a group but to a system of people widens the focus of who is initiator and receiver of therapeutic efforts and change. Parents, infants, but also care-givers and music therapists contribute and receive as participants and evaluators in these scenarios. It is a circular, refreshing process of learning more about our own discipline and potentials for its development.

In my view, the authors tell us about the roots of music therapy, and –by doing this- root and embed the discipline as a core approach in the context of building up healthy human communication and relationships.

I can very much recommend this book for students, practitioners and researchers from music therapy, and also from adjacent disciplines including pedagogy, psychology, and psychiatry and all those interested in the field of music and parent-infant bonding.


Gilbertson, S. (2008) The Silent Epidemic of Road Traffic Injury: What Can Music Therapists do About It? Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 8, 1 (2008).
Malloch, S. and Trevarthen, C. (2008) Communicative Musicality: Exploring the Basis of Human Companionship. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Oldfield, A. and Flower, C. (2008) Music Therapy with Children and their Families. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Schmid, W. and Ostermann, T. (2010) Home-based music therapy – a systematic overview of settings and conditions for an innovative service in healthcare. BMC Health Services Research 2010, Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/1472-6963-10-291
Stern, D. N. (2010) Forms of Vitality. Exploring Dynamic Experience in Psychology, the Arts, Psychotherapy, and Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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