Facing the challenge

a music therapy investigation in the evidence-based framework

Katrina McFerran, Jennifer Stephenson

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

This chapter will describe a music therapy study conducted in partnership by two academics from Australian universities. Katrina McFerran is a qualitative researcher in music therapy and Jennifer Stephenson favours quantitative research in special education. This collaboration was established in response to media interest in challenges to the efficacy of music therapy in the Australian context, framed as a controversial practice (Stephenson 2004). Music therapy is well represented in the Australian special schools, with a recent survey finding that 41 per cent of Victorian special schools employ music therapists (Booth 2004). The opportunity to explore the role of music therapy in special education from an evidence-based perspective was of interest to both the authors and to professionals in both disciplines. Evidence-based practice (EBP) was introduced originally to medical settings, but has spread throughout the healthcare and education fields. Broadly speaking, EBP places an emphasis on the use of evidence from sound research studies, along with clinical expertise and the perspectives of the individual receiving treatment in the processes for making decisions about clinical practice (Schlosser and Raghavendra 2004). This set of beliefs is grounded in a desire to support best practice and to distinguish interventions supported by 'evidence' from 'popular' practice, that is, interventions that are widely supported by schools but not founded on empirical research. Music therapists have acknowledged the dominance of the evidence-based approach in both medical settings (Edwards 2002) and special education (McFerran and Stephenson 2007), although some authors have challenged the values underpinning any approach that privileges one form of knowing over all others both in music therapy (Aldridge 2003; Edwards 2005) and in education literature (Lincoln 2005). Special education in Australia has an easy relationship with EBP because, unlike mainstream education, it is primarily derived from the scientific tradition of applied behaviour analysis. The field has always placed a strong emphasis on the use ofpractices for which there is empirical evidence of the type valued in the EBP model. There are literally hundreds of empirical studies demonstrating the efficacy of a wide range of special education practices (Alberto and Troutman 2006; Westling and Fox 2003). Although there is an emerging interest in qualitative work to examine more closely the dynamics of particular situations, only a small body of literature has been published (Brantlinger, et al. 2005). Within the field of music therapy, some researchers have advocated applied behaviour analysis as a preferred research methodology (Hanser 2005; Standley 1996). However, the discipline also has a rich tradition of case study, descriptive and qualitative work.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationArts therapies in schools
Subtitle of host publicationresearch and practice
EditorsVicky Karkou
Place of PublicationLondon: Philadelphia
PublisherJessica Kingsley Publishers
Pages259-270
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9781843106333
Publication statusPublished - 2010

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