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Music Therapy Groupwork with Special Needs Children: The Evolving Process

br2007_085Goodman, Karen D. (2007). Music Therapy Groupwork with Special Needs Children: The Evolving Process. Springfield, Ill: C. C. Thomas Publisher.

After almost 30 years working in the field of music therapy, I decided to attend the First International Clive Robbins Research Symposium arranged in New York this summer. Seated next to me at the symposium was Karen Goodman. During the first brief interval in a very interesting session of research presentations, she introduced herself, and suddenly I found myself discussing how to assess a child’s need for group therapy versus individual therapy, an area very relevant to my practice. She told me she had just finished a book on groupwork in music therapy, and when I, a few weeks later, was asked to write a review on the book, I readily accepted.

Karen Goodman is an associate Professor of Music Therapy at Montclair State University. She is also a longstanding educator and clinician.

Karen Goodman seeks in her book to develop “the therapist’s sensibility to working effectively toward the formation of a cohesive group with children who have different functioning levels, different temperaments and different musical preferences” (p. VII).

She sets out this huge task by presenting the story of a group, a story where she puts the reader in the middle of an exciting group experience. I can relate to the story through my own experiences, but also because of the clarity, the detailed story that unfolds in the first chapter. She gives a vivid detailed picture of the reality under which a music therapist has to work. One could argue that words alone can become too theoretical to grasp this reality. There are no photos, no videos, and no scores of music – just words. But Karen Goodman is a good story- teller as well as a keen theorist and analyst. Moving on from presenting the group, she takes you through a number of unanswered questions. Questions, hardly asked in previous literature of music therapy, where most often the focus is on individual therapy settings. However, reading the book, makes you join in the discussions being raised, because they are questions that you have yourself been forced to discuss in your own ongoing work.

Goodman presents very interesting thoughts about assessment, setting goals, reviewing the IEP and evaluating the child’s progress in therapy. She puts forward the question of individual or group placement in music therapy for children and points out that this is a critical issue, and one largely absent from the music therapy literature. From my own experience I can only agree. Working in a special school, one is very often expected to give every child a group therapy experience. Then, if there are enough resources, one can start offering individual sessions which is what music therapy is really about! Or is it? Karen Goodman opens up the discussion about what the child really needs, – will the child prosper from individual or group therapy, and what kind of group setting is the best – for the child? She also addresses the question of what kind of music to select, and how to adapt this in the therapy session.

She is very thorough in her theoretical presentation, but she also gives case studies to keep the reader close to what is actually being discussed. Through eight chapters Professor Goodman provides multiple clinical vignettes from her 28 years of clinical work, all of which serve to demonstrate her theoretical perspectives. Her work includes children with autistic spectrum disorder, multiple disabilities or psychiatric diagnoses.

As an experienced music therapist I find the book very challenging and welcoming. It puts group work in music therapy on the map. The book is a gold mine for educators of music therapy students. Working in special education to-day, the music therapist is expected to take part in and help develop a child’s individual plan. Goodman’s book gives a very good guidance as to how this can be done. Different directions and approaches of evaluation, assessment, methodologies, and music therapy strategies are being presented and discussed. And furthermore, strategies are being linked to goals and objectives for each child in the group.

Every chapter is followed by study guide questions, and I would recommend the reader to stay for a while in each chapter. Otherwise the book can be rather overwhelming. It should not be read from A to Z, but be used as a travel guide: Before starting the journey, visit chapter one etc. For those unfamiliar with the music therapy material being referred to in the book, the appendix will be a good guideline.

Sharing the hope that Music Therapy Groupwork with Special Needs Children: The Evolving Process, will become a primary reference in the music therapy profession.

1 comment to Music Therapy Groupwork with Special Needs Children: The Evolving Process

  • […] Music Therapy Groupwork with Special Needs Children: The Evolving 19 Dec 2007. Music Therapy Groupwork with Special Needs Children: The Evolving. to assess a child's need for group therapy versus individual therapy,. – Music Therapy Groupwork with Special Needs Children: The Evolving […]