Thursday, May 7, 2009

Day 8 - Pondering the future

Lately, the new Star Trek movie has been all over the news. I'm a passive participant in the "Star Trek Fan Club" but all the media hype does have me thinking about a question I ponder from time to time - What is music therapy going to look like in the future?

Music therapy has certainly undergone a revolution conceptually. Initially, it was a restorative medium used to treat the "mental and physical health" of injured soldiers (Davis, Gfeller, & Thaut, 2008, p. 32). Today, it is being used to treat mental and physical health as well as it is being used for social skills training, emotional well-being, hospice and palliative care, neonatal care, spiritual health, and community based/integrated settings.

Another more recent trend has been "increasing awareness of the importance of sensitivity to cultural differences by the helping professions (Davis, Gfeller, & Thaut, 2008, p. 447)." There are a number of reasons why this change is taking place. First, music therapists, who have been trained using traditional "western music (tonally)" are taking their expertise back to their home countries and applying regional and culturally specific variations and/or modifications (Gao, 2009). Judging from the number of news reports/news articles, another hotspot for the development of music therapy appears to be taking place in India (Google search engine, daily, term "music therapy"). Secondly, individuals are much more mobile, physically, than ever before. Consequently, an increasing number of different cultures can be found in particular countries or geographic area. A perfect example can be found in the most recent edition of the Voices e-journal on music therapy that recently featured an article entitled, "Musical Preferences of Argentines Living in Australia: Implications for Music Therapy Clinical Practice". Finally, groups such as Music Therapists for Peace (Edith Boxill) and PlayingforChange have highlighted a social justice/activism role for music therapists and musicians. At the University of Windsor, the university and music therapy program are described as having a international focus and a focus on "social justice".

So how does this impact music therapy? First and foremost, the musical repetoire that music therapy students are exposed to must, by necessity, include culturally specific musical examples. It is no longer sufficient to go with the standard "North American", "Western tonality" based songs such as, "You are my sunshine" and "Home on the Range". In my area of practice (working with geriatric clients) I often see that persons with Alzheimer's will often revert to their "mother tongue" as their dementia progresses, rather than retain English as their primary mode of verbal communication. I also recently completed some training entitled, "Supportive Pathways" where the need to understand culturally specific socialization patterns may impact how you deal with a particular individual. For example, in some cultures, direct eye contact with "an elder" is discouraged and frowned upon. Here in North America, we expect to see a person "look at me[us] when I am talking to you!" This might also be important to consider as part of the training of music therapy students and music therapists.

Speaking strictly as a music therapist working and practiscing in North America, I have also begun to see a generational change in the music. By this I mean that music of the 1920's and 1930's, preferred by many of my clients today, is giving way to music of the 1940's and 1950's. I am personally looking forward to working with the generation that grew up on the music of the 1960's!.

Finally, a lesser obvious impact upon music therapy practice is the proliferation of music, in terms of availability. The early 20th century, at least in North America, saw home based music making, and small publication runs of popular music. Presently, the availability of music from every conceivable genre and/or source is a given and music is becoming increasingly personalized (think iPod versus group singing). This was brought home by an assignment that I had students in my Introduction to Music Therapy course complete recently. Specifically, I had them complete a 20-minute audiobiography of their life. Unlike the previous class of students that had completed the same assignment two years ago, this class presented a more diverse pool of musical examples, including many that could be categorized as "world music" (BTW: The audiobiography assignment is a great assignment that students tend to really enjoy and take pride in, once it is complete). As music sourcing becomes increasingly diverse, and individuals seek out a wider range of music, I believe that improvisation will become an increasingly important part of training. We [music therapists] will no longer be able to learn a narrowly defined set of songs and reproduce them for group or individual consumption. Elements of music such as rhythm and harmony are common to music of a wide variety of cultural groups.

Have I reflected your thoughts about the future of the profession of music therapy or do you have some additional ideas related to "Where are we going as music therapists"?


Davis, W. B., Gfeller, K. E., & Thaut, M. H. (2008). An introduction to music therapy: Theory and practice. Silver Spring, MD: American Music Therapy Association.

Gao, T. (2009, April 30). Music therapy in China. World Federation of Music Therapy/Regional Liasons Blog. Retrieved on May 7, 2009, from,

Moore, C. C., & Baker, F. A. (2009, March 1). Musical preferences of Argentines living in Australia. Voices, 9(1). Retrieved on May 7, 2009, from,