Inside Music Therapy: Client Experiences

By Eyre, Lillian | Music Therapy Perspectives, July 1, 2004 | Go to article overview

Inside Music Therapy: Client Experiences


Eyre, Lillian, Music Therapy Perspectives


Hibben, Julie (1999). Inside Music Therapy: Client Experiences, Gilsum: NH: Barcelona Publishers. 305 pages. ISBN 1-891278-08-8. $28.00

For anyone who has ever asked the question, "How does music become a therapy?" this book will provide some very clear answers. Unique in the music therapy literature, the 33 narratives included here are told from the clients' viewpoint, revealing how the experience of music in therapy helped to bring about meaningful change in their lives. The editor's stated purpose is to address the imbalance found in professional journals where therapists typically write about clients from the perspective of academic theory and clinical techniques.

Where possible, the stories are recounted in the clients' own words. In some cases where clients are unable to write or express themselves verbally, parents or spokespersons provide testimonies of the clients' experiences, while in other instances, therapists gather clients' descriptions of their sessions through transcripts, conversations, songs and poems written by the clients. In addition to providing a rare and illuminating glimpse into what goes on within the therapeutic space, these techniques of gathering information offer the music therapist a myriad of models for collecting data and communicating clinical research.

The narratives are wide in scope. Various kinds of music therapy methods and techniques are represented including vocal and instrumental improvisation, Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), listening experiences, biofeedback and listening, movement to music, piano lessons, song singing and reminiscence, lyric writing, and composing. Demographic diversity is evident as well; clients range in age from 3 to 90 and include contributions from Canada, Norway, Great Britain, Israel, The Netherlands, and Australia, in addition to the United States of America. Drawn from a variety of settings, the populations include people with developmental delays, multiple disabilities, diseases of aging such as Alzheimer's, brain tumour, cerebral palsy, autism, learning disabilities, HIV, eating disorders, psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, oncology, and persons seeking to increase their personal growth and insight.

These stories are compelling, each one a world unto itself, passionately told with purposeful reflection. For example, in the music therapy model of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM), the client images to specially designed classical music programs in a relaxed state while dialoguing with the therapist. Client narratives that are derived from GIM experiences explore diverse issues such as healing in physical illness and substance abuse, to the search for confidence that will foster greater personal growth and the exploration of losses related to sexual abuse.

In one account that occurs in the GIM experience, a male client shares the journal he keeps while confronting childhood wounds left by sexual abuse and its aftermath of debilitating defences that threaten his capacity to feel in adulthood. In another, a music therapist uses GIM in a psychiatric inpatient unit with a client whose precocious musical career has been eclipsed by a pattern of drug and alcohol abuse. The therapy provides the means by which the client can connect to the unknown and repressed parts of himself. As a result, he is able to resume his former career while maintaining a hold on his inner equilibrium.

Music therapists also tell of their own process in GIM as clients, providing the reader with an unusual synthesis of analytical focus within a deeply felt subjective experience. The reader is invited to partake in the intimate journey of a woman with lung cancer as she describes the vivid imagery, physical sensations and emotions she experiences that impel her to express the depth of rage she feels about her illness, and also help her to nurture the healing images that begin to take root in her imagination. In another, a music therapist describes how she came to therapy looking for the courage to let go of a limiting job, and left with experiences that helped her to uncover her strength and become a more fully realized human being. …

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