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Resource-Oriented Music Therapy in Mental Health Care

Rolvsjord, Randi (2010). Resource-Oriented Music Therapy In Mental Health Care. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers. 282 pp, ISBN 978-1-891278-55-6

Reviewed by Alexander Crooke, University of Melbourne

Randi Rolvsjord is a registered and practicing music therapist, and an Associate Professor at the Grieg Academy and the Grieg Academy Music Therapy Research Centre (GAMUT), in the department of music at the University of Bergen. She has been publishing in the field of music therapy since 2004, and publishing on the concept of resource-oriented music therapy since 2005, with more than ten publications, including this, her third book.

This book gives a comprehensive account of the different theories that underpin and contribute to the practice of resource-oriented music therapy. It illustrates the need to consider the value of a resource-oriented approach in the light of recent academic and political debates in a number of disciplines, including music therapy, musicology, psychology, psychiatry, sociology as well as more general challenges to the medical model of health and illness. By discussing the theoretical landscape that surrounds it, Rolvsjord gives a sound basis for her own conceptualisation of what is needed for a resource-oriented approach, and why it is important to consider the “therapeutic value of the ‘nonpsychotherapeutic’ work in this field” (p 5). This is further illustrated in light of her own music therapy work, both in terms of how her work with clients has informed her own thinking regarding a resource-oriented approach, and how this approach has helped her to make sense of the interactions between her and her clients, and the way that these clients have gone on to use their own musical resources outside of the therapeutic setting.

It is clear that Rolvsjord and her work are driven by two main factors; first is an obvious and deep level of respect for her clients including the acknowledgement of their abilities to use music to help themselves, and their abilities to challenge and help her grow both as a therapist and as a musician; second is the combination of passion and experience in her chosen field, as illustrated by her mastery and knowledge of the vast array of literature and interrelated theories that inform it, both in this book, and in her numerous other publications.

As a result of her insights from both the literature and her own practical experience, Rolvsjord makes the claim that, in general, “Therapy can be as much about nurturing resources and strengths as it is about fixing pathology and solving problems” (p 5). Rolvsjord goes on to argue that, while at first glance a resource-oriented approach to therapy might be seen primarily as focused on strengths, is not limited to this aspect; the role of addressing problems is just as pertinent. In fact it is the critique of the binary conception of health/illness or problems/strengths embedded in the traditional therapies of the “medical model” which informs her claim that: “clearly, strengths and problems both have a place in therapy […] These need not be treated as separate parts of the therapeutic process, but might rather be seen as interacting aspects” (p 177). Indeed this claim is substantiated throughout this book.

The book is divided into three main sections. The first section, “Frames and Descriptions”, sets out the theoretical framework for Rolvsjord’s approach by giving an insightful and rich account of the literature in a impressing range of fields. This starts by covering recent academic and political debates regarding music therapy and mental health care, including sociological and psychological critiques of the “illness ideology.” It goes on to cover the philosophies and conceptualisation of a number of approaches to therapy that challenge the “illness ideology”, including empowerment, the common factors approach, and positive psychology. Rolvsjord then takes a look at music in and of itself, citing recent musicology and music therapy critique, as well articulating the concept of affordances. Finally, as the title of the chapter suggests, this section culminates with an account of how the previous chapters lend themselves “Toward a Concept of Resource-Oriented Music Therapy”, in which she stresses the importance of concepts of equality and collaboration between therapist and client.
The second section presents moving and engaging case studies with two of her clients. The case studies are based on Rolvsjord’s observation over a number of sessions, as well as in-depth interviews. Each client gets two chapters, the first from the point of view of Rolvsjord as the therapist, and a second focused more towards the voice of the clients and their self reported experiences. This section finishes with a reflection of the sessions with both clients and how they relate to the need to address both problems and resources.

The last section Rolvsjord uses both the case examples presented in the second section and pre-existing literature to provide a basis upon what a resource-oriented approach to music therapy might involve. While plainly stating that it is not “a recipe for how to work” (p 181), she does suggest some tenants for both the client’s, and the therapist’s role in therapy of this sort. For the client this includes, among other things, the ability to actively contribute to therapy, and their competence in using music in their own lives. For the therapist, Rolvsjord identifies a number of principles that should be considered in a resource-oriented approach to music therapy.

As previously mentioned, Rolvsjord’s command of the literature is impressive, as is her ability to relate it to her own work. The book makes clear connections between theory and practice in a way that has the potential to engage people from many disciplines. The case studies are presented passionately and honestly, both from the point of view of the client, and the therapist. One cannot help but to be drawn in to the stories of the two young women and their therapeutic journey, made all the more richer by Rolvsjord’s open accounts of when she was both challenged and enriched as a therapist, and as a person, in the process.

Overall, Rolvsjord writes with a directed passion that gives a clear and concise rationale for why a resource-oriented approach should be considered in music therapy, and therapy in general. Given the range of disciplines from which her arguments are informed, this book would surely be of interest to many different people, from sociologists, to musicologists, to psychiatrists, to counselors, to community workers, and anyone with a general interest in music or health. Having said that, the implications of the arguments, theories and philosophies presented within this text make it much more than a common interest text. While an important contribution to the field of music therapy in particular, I would argue that anyone in the many clinical therapy disciplines should read this book, and that anyone thinking about a resource-oriented approach to music therapy must read this book.

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