Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Therapy

Isoprinciple: The Group Approach

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Therapy

Isoprinciple: The Group Approach

Article excerpt


This article looks at the isoprinciple (Altshuler, 1948) and puts forward ideas about how this principle may be applied in the therapeutic use of music in the group setting. A feedback loop is proposed, for the assessment and reassessment of mood states. Following a consideration of broad mood categories, such as active/energetic and quiet/withdrawn, five different situations likely to occur in the music therapy session are outlined. These five situations include both homogenous and heterogenous groups, with thoughts on how to proceed musically in these circumstances. Suggested musical examples are listed in Table 1. The isoprinciple is useful in enhancing rapport, openness and cohesion within the group, and may reduce the incidence of music therapist "burnout". Despite the passage of almost fifty years, there is still a great deal to be learned from Altshuler's (1948) isoprinciple, in particular its application to groups.

In music therapy the isoprinciple is often quoted as a founding tenent of music therapy practice. This principle, first proposed by Altshuler (1948), consists of using music to meet and match the mood of the client. Recent research validates the concept that it is possible to match moods between people, and that music may be used to reflect mood states (Goleman, 1991). This article is based on a collection of thoughts and ideas gained from attempting to apply the isoprinciple with groups, and is presented with a view to stimulating further discussion and investigation.

The isoprinciple, in reference to clinical practice, is simple in concept but not always easy to apply in practice. It depends on a capacity by the music therapist to ascertain the client's mood at a particular point in time. This may be evidenced by various characteristics, such as facial expressions, eye contact, breathing rate, energy levels and other non-verbal cues, in addition to vocal and verbal responses (Short, 1989). The most exact application of the isoprinciple occurs in a one-to-one situation, where the necessary focus of attention is available, to obtain a good sense of the client's particular mood state. Music therapists such as Robbins and Robbins (1990), Bonny (1973) and Tyson (1981) have particularly used the isoprinciple in their one-to-one music therapy.

However, many music therapists do not have the opportunity of working only in a one-to-one situation, and must apply their profession to a group of clients. Does the isoprinciple remain valid and can it be applied under these circumstances?

The present author believes that the isoprinciple may be successfully used with groups, in fact, Altshuler (1948) himself worked with groups. He appears to have assessed the group mood only once, immediately prior to the music therapy session, using this single assessment to guide the session. The present author contends that it is possible to expand this one assessment to many, and to apply the isoprinciple in an ongoing way throughout the session, in order to enhance group process. General concepts presented here are presumed to have applications regardless of the media used, if the media has sufficient flexibility to follow changes in client mood(s). The present author has applied the isoprinciple using song media with mature and older adults, although suggestions of other music therapy media may include improvisation and pre-recorded classical or non-classical music.

The importance of specific musical rendition should not be underestimated in addressing specific mood states. Subtleties of tempo, pitch, dynamics, rhythmic and melodic emphases may greatly affect the emotional impact of the music and consequently the way in which it may be applied according to the isoprinciple. These subtleties have proven difficult to research and define in anything more than general terms, due to complex interactions between each of these elements.

Isoprinciple Group Concepts

From conducting many group sessions, certain patterns and considerations begin to arise. …

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