A Survey of Music Therapists' Work with Speech-Language Pathologists and Experiences with Augmentative and Alternative Communication

By McCarthy, John PhD, Ccc-Slp; Geist, Kamile Ma, Mt-Bc et al. | Journal of Music Therapy, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

A Survey of Music Therapists' Work with Speech-Language Pathologists and Experiences with Augmentative and Alternative Communication


McCarthy, John PhD, Ccc-Slp, Geist, Kamile Ma, Mt-Bc, Zojwala, Rashida Ma, Schock, Molly Z. Ma, Journal of Music Therapy


Although music therapists may work with a variety of professionals in interdisciplinary teams, there is a lack of information about the specific nature of their work with speech-language pathologists (SLPs). Using an Internet-based tool, Board Certified Music Therapists (n = 1834, 1675 deliverable) were surveyed regarding their work with speech-language pathologists and experiences with augmentative and alternative communication (AAC). Specifically, participants were asked about: (a) demographics; (b) populations worked with professionally; (c) past and present work with speech-language pathologists; (d) goals addressed; (e) benefits and challenges encountered; and (f) work with AAC. Responses (N = 847) indicated the majority of participants (73.6%) had worked with SLPs at some point in various roles and in various settings. Fewer participants reported currently working with SLPs (42.8%), although 50.1% reported currently working with someone requiring some form of AAC. Participants reported a mean level of expertise with AAC of 3.9 on a scale of 1-7. Sharing knowledge was noted as a top benefit of working with SLPs, while scheduling was reported as the most frequent challenge. Other benefits and challenges as well as future research directions are discussed.

Music therapists' work in multi-disciplinary treatment may often include work with Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs). Potentially the working relationship is mutually beneficial. Music therapists are trained to recognize communication goals already created by an SLP that would be appropriate for music therapy interventions and would lend themselves to adding musical elements to support. For the SLP, Zoller (1991) stated, "Musical activities stress nonverbal forms of communication and often surpass physical, cultural, intellectual, and emotional limitations" (p. 272) . In a further illustration of the mutual benefit, Pellitteri (2000) offered, "when the music therapist creates a comfortable psychological environment children tend to feel relaxed and to decrease any inhibitions related to speaking, and natural language is allowed to emerge (p. 384)."

These benefits span individuals across a wide range of clients served by MTs and SLPs alike. Michel and May (1974) reviewed a series of student projects at Florida State University where MTs and SLPs collaborated to the mutual benefit of a variety of children with speech and language impairments. A research review by Cohen (1994) summarized the relative effectiveness of singing for individuals with a range of speech disorders due primarily to neurological impairments. In another narrative review, Humpal (1990) outlined the various means (including communication) with which music therapy services could be included in early intervention. Through a meta-analysis of 10 studies with variables that included communication, Whipple (2004) found nothing but positive effects for the use of music with children and adolescents with autism.

Collaborations can take several forms. Hobson (2006) defined three collaborative treatment approaches. In the multidisciplinary approach the SLP and MT conduct separate assessments and determine separate goals for the client. The collaboration is defined as agreeing to work with the same client but through different modalities. The interdisciplinary model is described as the MT and the SLP developing assessment and treatment on the same goals for the clients, but collaborating only on the writing of the goals as the therapy is conducted separately. The transdisciplinary model involves the therapists treating the client at the same time, integrating the modalities. This may involve only one therapist being present but using both modalities in the treatment.

Register (2002) found that 36.3% of MTs reported consulting with SLPs and 44.6% reported collaborating with SLPs. She further noted that 47.1% of MTs reported goals of consultative work as "communication." Because the focus of the survey was on all professional collaborations and consultations, the specific nature of the work with SLPs was not detailed in Register's (2002) survey. …

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