Music therapy strikes a certain chord

I arrived at a workshop on a sunny Saturday at Capilano with no knowledge of music therapy other than the age-old adage “music soothes the savage beast.” Enrollment in the The music therapy program can lead to many different potential careers, and the presenter was a multi-tasking machine of determination and ambition: masters degree from NYU for music therapy, presently a doctoral student in a PhD program in leadership and change, co-editor of a magazine, and president of the Canadian Association for Music Therapy.

Guylaine Vaillancourt’s PhD dissertation is titled, “Mentoring Apprentice Music Therapists for Peace and Social Justice through Community Music Therapy: An Arts-Based Study.” Reading the title alone, I was expecting to learn a lot, and also expecting most of what would be said to go way over my head. Stephen Williams, music therapy coordinator here at Cap U, tells me Vaillancourt’s study is “a supervision exercise with six music therapy students involved. Vaillancourt wanted to understand what the experience of a music therapist who practiced community music therapy would be like.”

In Vaillancourt’s study, data being sampled ranged from drawing, to journaling, to painting, to playing music. Assessing the non-verbal experiences as data was closely considered, and from there the process of scientific research was trusted to make the study a success. The outline of her research, the findings, and what was learned along the way were shared during the workshop. A music therapist with a goal of working out such issues as peace and social justice,  Guylaine Vaillancourt is certainly someone to watch and learn from.

Stephen Williams is a practicing music therapist who shared with me his account of music therapy in one-on-one counseling situations. “I work with children and adults in my private practice. They walk through the door and a verbal therapist would say ‘How are you doing?’ and I say ‘Let’s do a [musical] improvisation to find out how things are going,’” he explains. He demonstrates by playing a few notes on a xylophone in the corner of the office. “This would be what a client might play”, he says to me, “it’s in the key of C”. Quite a charismatic guy, he  would interpret the few notes he played as very light, lyrical, and melodic. Then he would support the xylaphone with some light strumming on a guitar – “I would round out the musical sound so that it is very successful, I would support it.” Often a verbal expression can be self-edited, in traditional therapy sessions key issues are not identified immediately, but with a musical improvisation, from the aspect of assessment, there is an opportunity for valuable information.

Indeed, interpreting something like music as expressive of some particular issue a person may be subject to would require an apt ear and a lot of experience. “After the improvisation, there’s a conversation; that’s when I use the counseling skills to get a sense of what was going on for them [during the improvisation],” says Williams, “my information is in some way assumption – I don’t analyze their music but I have a dialogue with [the patient]...  I’ll say ‘What’d you hear in the music?’

For more information on the Capilano Music Therapoy program, go to 
http://www.capilanou.ca/programs/music-therapy.html and to learn more about the Candian Association for Music Therapy, go to http://www.musictherapy.ca.

Reza Naghibi

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com