How should music therapists engage with the enormous potential of neuroscience research? The methodological rigors usually employed in such research complicate this highly attractive arena, requiring operationalizing music and removing it from the context in which it is usually experienced (Fachner and Stegemann, 2013). Deconstructing music in this way merely addresses the neural processing of music perception and action, ignoring the holistic experience of music, which unfolds over time and is embedded in personal and situational context (Fachner, 2002). Furthermore, because music therapy by definition is an interpersonal experience involving client and therapist, and the therapy process depends “upon not merely the music, but also the client’s experience of it” (p. 115, Bruscia, 2014), research methods which isolate the research subject from this interaction neglect an important component in the clinical dynamic of music therapy. From a broader perspective, emerging research into the effects of early relationships on brain development and behavior (Schore, 2012), shows that individuals’ brains have unique patterns of interacting with the world as well as perceiving and responding to the world. While cognitive neuroscience can identify some global responses to music as stimuli, the high degree of variability across individuals continues to be a serious confounding factor. In response, new research methods are exploring ways to account for individual experience in conjunction with neuroimaging (Varela, 1996) as well as how interpersonal musical interaction correlates with brain activity (Lindenberger et al., 2009). Therefore, in this piece I will discuss researching and interpreting the behavior of the human brain in relation to music therapy contexts. I will delineate the boundaries of research methods employed in the neurosciences and discuss ways in which new, alternative methods have the potential to meaningfully elucidate clinically relevant information for music therapists.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Biological Psychiatry
- Behavioral Neuroscience