Saturday, March 10, 2012

Does music therapy do any harm?

I was reading an article today on potential of eLearning in university environments (Conole, 2010, Journal of eLearning and Knowledge Society). This author was pointing out how very few academic environments have truly fulfilled on the promises made – for “personalisation, student-centred learning, to support new forms of communication and dialogical learning and enriched multi-model forms of representation” (p.13).  But what really caught my attention was the author’s reference to NO SIGNIFICANT DIFFERENCE being evident in studies of eLearning vs. traditional learning.

It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps we music therapists have been approaching the idea of statistical significance all wrong.  Instead of comparing our programs to other existing programs and being disappointed that we are not SIGNIFICANTLY MORE effective, we should be comparing ourselves to other equivalent programs of excellence and showing that we are NOT SIGNIFICANTLY WORSE! 

The author had used the argument in the way that music therapists do.  Under controlled conditions there was no evidence that eLearning was better.  But to my reading, as an interested and detached observer of the phenomenon, that was all I needed to hear – that it was no worse.  Times are moving forward and the only thing standing in the way of eLearning would be if it were detrimental to student learning.

Similarly, music therapy is an appealing and engaging form of therapy in many contexts.  There is often strong support from families and participants for music therapy programs, but funding is often not forthcoming, perhaps because of the lack of evidence. The argument we should be making is that the evidence shows that music therapy is doing no harm and that it is also desirable to consumers.  We should be conducting investigations to make sure that it is not detrimental, instead of constantly focusing on analysis of results to identify which dimensions we can claim statistically significant improvements on.    The best outcome we should be hoping for is equivalence, since I think we would all agree that we find music therapy as effective as other means of achieving therapeutic outcomes, but not necessarily more?  Or perhaps that’s just me?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Do we really have to take sides?

I was lucky enough to participate in a discussion today where a group of mature and thoughtful music therapy researchers debated how much our beliefs influence our research.  Earlier this week I sat with a group of enthusiastic and insightful music therapy students as we grappled with how our beliefs influence the therapy that we do. I learned a great deal from both, but I wanted to take the chance to consider two different approaches to this kind of learning.

If I adopted a dualistic approach, which I often have, I would be inclined to simplify the discussions by offering  a group of ideas to choose between.  This provides a structure for thinking and talking and allows us to acknowledge different ideas.  I have used this method quite consciously in response to my own experience of being confused by thoughtful people asking me to share my opinions on issues that I barely understand and therefore cannot really make an argument about.

But I am increasingly unable to rely on this favourite old strategy of mine.  I am finding it difficult to see the divides between perspectives anymore, and I often end up gazing at the overlap, which is even less helpful if I am trying to facilitate thinking and discussion.  Ken Wilber's concept of integral thinking is my saving grace in trying to understand why this has happened and how I am increasingly experiencing things.

It's not just that I can see the different perspectives and just don't feel like aligning myself with only one of them.  It's more like the perspectives are meeting and greeting one another and then transcending the false divides that seem to exist between them.  For me, this is the same experience as when you sing, or make music, or go to a concert with a whole group of strangers that you don't know (Christopher Small described this aptly as musicking).  You feel connected to one another in a deep understanding and sharing way, but you are a whole entity in yourself at the same time.  You neither lose yourself, nor maintain your need to distinguish yourself.

Not surprisingly then, this sounds as though my views on music and knowledge are integrating with my spiritual beliefs.  But instead of feeling all lined up and neat, it feels greater than, and expanded. 

My conclusion is that integral living works for me and I live integral thinking on my best days.  But then, of course, there's the other days ...