Re-Connecting to Music Technology: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: The rate of change in the technological advances available to music therapists is incredible. While Music Therapy Perspectives has hosted discussions on music technology in therapy in the past (for instance, see "Integrating Technology" columns in the early 1990s issues), keeping apace of technological changes, and their impact on education and clinical training, is challenging. This paper contextualizes current advances in music technology through a review of technology applications in the field, and looks to the future, in both educational and clinical applications.

We have never before experienced a time when technology was such an integral part of culture. Krout and Mason (1988) studied computers just at the point in history when they were becoming more prominent and available for clinical use. Since that time, computing, as just one facet of technology, has morphed into devices such as laptops, tablets like the iRad, smartphones with wireless accessibility, remotely linked devices, and others. These advances have many of us clicking, swiping, checking in, tweeting, and posting to share information with clients, about clinical practice, and us as therapists.

Our attitudes toward and beliefs about technology contribute to our way of being in the world. Such is the case for our clients, particularly those younger than 40, who have grown up in an increasingly digitalized age, and are not just "used" to technology, but expect to use and interact with others through technology. Recent research by Mauskapf (in review) adds further weight to this discussion, introducing and commenting on the use of vidéoconférence technology to conduct music therapy sessions with patients in remote areas of the United States who would not otherwise have access to therapy services. This has created a dilemma for us as professionals - does technology enhance or depersonalize therapy? Does it improve patient experiences or serve as a gimmick, without any significant improvement in process or outcomes? And, even more basically, what kinds of technology are available and how can they be used therapeutically? The latter questions are particularly important given the rate of technological advances and the ease with which children, adolescents and young adults adapt and integrate these changes into their lives.

Crowe and Rio (2004) have operationally defined technology for our profession: "In fact, in music therapy it [technology] may involve any equipment, device, or method that systematically fosters the production of or response to music" (p. 283). This continues to be a functional use of the term, since advances in computer applications, smartphones, tablets, and Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) in the years since could still fit in the "equipment, device, or method" portion of the definition. However, the number of devices and prevalence of technology in the clinic has likely increased for most music therapists since 2004, with the push in healthcare toward computerized communication and documentation.

Computing, as a general category of technology, is easily the largest, most pervasive product for practitioners in our field, and can include everything from a desktop computer to a smartphone application, or "app." While not as evident in the literature at this point, computing is present in our field in clinical settings - usually directed by facilities. In the broad field of health care, electronic health records are shaping our documentation practices. It is likely that the vast amount of information available to any member of a health care team at the click of a mouse has significantly affected the way a music therapist might understand the needs of a patient prior to a session. Also, could these advances shape documentation, including written assessments? As such, computing is a mandated skill for any new professional in any setting.

Although we may agree that today's technologies can still fall under the definition proposed by Crowe and Rio in 2004, the vast amount of jargon and acronyms can confuse instead of facilitate the learning process. …