Book Review – Edwards, J. (Ed.). (2016).

Edwards, J. (Ed.). (2016). The Oxford Handbook of Music Therapy. Oxford, England: OUP.

Reviewer: Fiona Hearn

MMusTher, BMus, NZ RMTh. Wellington Early Intervention Trust and private practice

The Oxford Handbook of Music Therapy is part of the Oxford Handbook series which covers a wide range of subjects in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences, including handbooks on music education (McPherson & Welch, 2012), community music (Bartleet & Higgins, 2018), and music psychology (Hallam, Cross, & Thaut, 2009). I was initially slightly daunted by its encyclopaedic size but as soon as I scanned through the contents pages, numerous interesting and relevant chapters jumped out at me. I found myself dipping into it over a series of months, searching for chapters on the different populations I work with, reflecting on different models and approaches and looking for practical examples of music therapy methods and techniques that were relevant to my practice.

Comprising almost 1000 pages, The Oxford Handbook of Music Therapy Is written as a reference book with contributions from 55 music therapists across 10 countries, bringing together some of the major practice, research and training topics within the current field. The book is organised into five sections: (1) Contexts and populations, (2) Models and approaches, (3) Methods and techniques, (4) Research methods, and (5) Training and professional issues. Each section contains an array of chapters relevant to that area written by a diverse range of authors. Every chapter is well written and organised with a brief introduction, detailed discussions of various
topics and subtopics illustrated with clinical examples, a conclusion to help sum up what you have read and a list of references for those who would like to study the topic further.

Section One includes 21 chapters about work with different populations and contexts. These range from medical care of infants (Shoemark & Dean) to music therapy in grief and mourning (Callaghan & Michael). I found myself reading chapters relevant to my current work and also looking into new areas of work that interested me. Tríona McCaffrey’s chapter on mental health care for adults stood out to me as being very informative, providing a good summary of the field as well as discussion on the merits of the different methods used.

Section Two covers a variety of different approaches and models of music therapy. This section was helpful for me in consolidating my knowledge and understanding of the approaches I draw on, as well as learning about some newer ones, such as Hadley and Hahna’s feminist perspectives in music therapy. I was excited to see a chapter by Dr Diane Austin, who presented an experiential workshop at the Music Therapy New Zealand Symposium (Austin, 2017). Austin’s chapter describes her vocal psychotherapy approach and the different methods and techniques she uses within it, illustrated by a case example.

I found Section Three on music therapy methods particularly relevant to my practice, as I was entering a new field of work. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on songwriting techniques (Aasgaard & Aerø) which offered a good summary of methods, broad guidelines, and interesting clinical examples.

Section Four contains a variety of chapters about music therapy research, with comprehensive overviews by Barbara Wheeler and Jane Edwards. Erkkilä’s thought-provoking chapter about mixed methods research opened my mind to the different types of research studies, as well as to the considerations needed when submitting research to different publications.

Of particular interest to me was Section Five, which contained an interesting and practical range of chapters on music therapy training and professional issues. I was drawn to reading Australian (and formerly New Zealand) music therapist Karen Twyford’s chapter on collaboration, which helped me to reflect on my own work within our multidisciplinary team at
the Wellington Early Intervention Trust. This chapter helped me to appreciate the professional sustenance I receive from working collaboratively, both within the team and with the families I work with, to achieve family-centred goals for each child. The Swahili proverb that Twyford quotes in her conclusion effectively sums up for me collaborative practice as a music therapist: “A boat doesn’t go forward if each one is rowing their own way” (p. 916).

The chapter I found most helpful was Gro Trondalen’s “Self-care in Music Therapy: The Art of Balancing”, as this is an issue I am very aware of, both for myself and for the music therapists I supervise. I particularly liked the discussion of practical considerations, such as the need for “tuning” your physical body as well as your instrument. I found it interesting to reflect on her statement that “For a music therapist it is important to choose jobs due to disposition, genes, strength, and personal drives” (p. 949). I was able to consider how the different types of work I am currently involved in fit my values, skills and personality.

In conclusion, The Oxford Handbook of Music Therapy contains rich, diverse information and provides an extensive snapshot of current music therapy practices. I felt the only omission was that, although there are contributions from nine Australian music therapists, there are none from a New Zealand perspective. It would be good to see the inclusion of a chapter by a New Zealand music therapist in future editions. It is also worth noting that the book has a strong focus on Western worldview and practice and makes little mention of non-Western theoretical frameworks or practice. However, the book remains a valuable contribution to music therapy literature and is best read by dipping into chapters relevant to the reader’s work. I recommend the book to students, new graduates and experienced music therapists alike as such a broad range of subjects are relevant to music therapists at any stage of their career.

(References are included in the full pdf of the journal.)

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