Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Therapy

From the Mouths of Babes: The Response of Six Younger, Bereaved Teenagers to the Experience of Psychodynamic Group Music Therapy

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Therapy

From the Mouths of Babes: The Response of Six Younger, Bereaved Teenagers to the Experience of Psychodynamic Group Music Therapy

Article excerpt


This article promotes a psychodynamic approach to music therapy group work with younger, bereaved adolescents based an the results of a phenomenological study conducted by the author. Research and literature from the fields of music therapy, psychology, bereavement and music studies are used to highlight the significance of these findings in relation to the philosophical stance of the practicing clinician. The Global Meaning Units (results) emphasise the importance o f freedom and control in the participants' therapeutic process. The meaning units also reveal the mature and compassionate behaviours displayed by group members, despite high levels of teasing and verbal banter. Finally, the meaning units demonstrate that the participants had a prior understanding of the importance of emotional expression and utilised the creative music processes to work towards relief in the intensity of their grief experience.


The practice of music therapy with adolescents potentially encompasses a broad range of philosophies, techniques and client needs. Interestingly, a directive approach is commonly promoted within the music therapy literature, with some authors suggesting the use of music as a 'hook' to motivate attendance (Miller, 1994) or a 'sneak therapy' (Brooks, 1989) because of music's evocative potential. Alternatively, psychoanalytic concepts have been used to draw meaning out of interactions with teenagers and to work through unconscious material presented in a musical context (Frisch, 1990). Both of these models place responsibility for the therapy processes primarily in the hands of the therapist In contrast, this paper illustrates that the bereaved adolescent - "who is chronologically far from death, intellectually able to comprehend the nature of death, interpersonally involved with life and youth, and focused on a challenging future" (Noppe & Noppe, 1991, p. 30), is capable of taking responsibility or their own therapeutic process. This statement will be supported below with information from the author's qualitative research work with six younger, bereaved adolescents. The author will firstly outline and justify methodological procedures undertaken to research group music therapy with grieving teenagers.

A selection of the study's most relevant results will then be discussed and their significance highlighted by research and literature from relevant and related fields.

Research Method

It has been suggested by many authors that the researchers philosophical approach to clinical practice should be reflected in their choice of research method (Aigen, 1993; Ansdell, 1995; Bruscia, 1995b). Accordingly, the many compatible elements between qualitative research and a psychodynamic approach to clinical work have been tabled below (Table 1). Nonetheless, the implication that a behavioural clinical approach, for example, should preclude the clinician from utilizing these viable and illuminating research strategies is dubious. It is possible that the recent popularity of qualitative research springs from a desire to produce clinically relevant results (Aigen, 1991), and has grown from the trend towards descriptive case studies rather than empirical studies with little practice relevance. Therefore qualitative research methods should not be used as a tool to categorise and limit potential research, but rather should be available to all researchers regardless of their clinical predisposition.

Phenomenology has been suggested as a compatible research method for clinicians promoting a psychodynamic, humanist and client-centered approach to music therapy (Algen, 1993; Ansdell, 1995). This is because using phenomenological research methods, the researcher attempts to understand what meaning an experience has for the person experiencing it. This contrasts with a quantitative approach that bypasses the subjects opinion and prefers the researcher's analysis of the data. …

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