Data supporting the thesis, "Experience, evidence and what counts in UK music therapy – an arts-based autoethnographic study"



The field of music therapy is not bland: therapists train because of deep belief in the dignity of people and the power of music; participants begin therapy because something significantly challenging is present in their lives; fundraisers share stories which are painful, life affirming, uncomfortable; receptionists juggle quiet spaces with loud spaces with stimulation without sensory triggers; carers listen, absorb, give and give some more, often beyond the limits of their energy. And pulse and meter and melody and dynamics and bodies and voices and wood and skin and metal are the raw materials.

However, it might be argued that the search for evidence in music therapy has led to something akin to a parallel reality, - one in which measured, analytical reporting of certain aspects of the work is shared, often in official documents. The vital, sensory, embodied, relational experience which is music making, and which lies at the heart of the therapy is rendered in careful and dispassionate text. There are good reasons for this, and for the steady growth of ‘evidence-based practice’, which lie in the history of the profession and its search for validation. Yet the evidence which is shared in these texts has tended to become increasingly disconnected from many features of the musical therapeutic encounter that music therapists value.

In this study, conceived from a critical realist perspective, I ask ‘what is experience in music therapy’, ‘what is evidence in music therapy’, ‘are evidence and experience in fact the same thing, or could they be’? I look at my own experiences, and evidencing of these experiences, gained across 24 years of working as a music therapist. In so doing, I find I cannot maintain a single role or persona. Unexpectedly, in the course of this reflexive exploration, four Roles arrive noisily and will not go away (Music Therapist, Researcher, Musician and Carer). They debate, argue and probe at the heart of what counts, and at the cultures of music therapy which systematise and perpetuate what counts. They consider the turn to evidence-based practice in music therapy and ask ‘what is the evidence of’, and ‘does this make sense to insiders, outsiders, either, both’?

This multivocal, dialogical approach allows me to adopt the different positions taken by each of the four Roles as they ask ‘does this make sense to me’, and to advocate for culture change in both music therapy and academia. It resonates with the focus of this research – experience, evidence and what counts in music therapy, and invites various different methodological approaches - autoethnography, arts-based research, phenomenology, and Aesthetic Critical Realism which is introduced to the field of music therapy for the first time. A complex web of different kinds of experience and evidence emerges through poems, stories, vignettes, images and mobile making and results in a concept of four phases of experience, leads to defined categories of different kinds of experience, and to the proposition that in music therapy, experience is evidence of personhood.

The thesis is relational: those engaging with it are part of the network of experiences in the field of music therapy, because I conceptualise this field as including all musical, logistical, contractual, academic, public and informal encounters of all stakeholders, from participants to next-door neighbours. Because you are engaging with this thesis, I regard you as a Collaborator, but it is not necessary for you to be familiar with the field. Thank you for your involvement.
Date made available1 Mar 2024
PublisherKing's College London

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