Monday, July 27, 2015

Transfers: Music Therapy to Buddhism, by Kolby Koczanowski

In the US music therapy community, there is a rich history of research supporting many solidified techniques, methods, and approaches. Opinions regarding each of these can spark quite the debate. For example, Nordoff-Robbins is an approach that utilizes two therapists and the function of musical improvisation. The Bonny Method for Guided-Imagery with Music formed in the 1970s following the return of Vietnam War veterans to the US. In the past few years we have seen a wealth of information develop supporting the impact music has on the brain, thus introducing Neurologic Music Therapy ( Each one of these brings with it followers who may or may not be tolerant to other perspectives in the field. However, as music therapy grows as a profession, I believe we should bridge the gap between philosophies, while striving for commonalities versus differences.

As humans we inevitably set up boundaries for ourselves, putting up walls to separate our cultures, beliefs, and religions. These boundaries are formed by our natural tendency to define ourselves and categorize who we are as humans while also defining the scope in which we live. It is, however, unfortunate that establishment of these boundaries have led to conflicts on local and global levels such as racism, religious genocide, and political radicalism. Even in the field of music therapy exists personal preference or established “value” regarding methods and approaches. What I have discovered on this trip is that these boundaries and efforts to separate ourselves from others only leads to further frustration and misunderstanding.

To assist in bridging the gap of philosophical differences one can look to the beliefs of Buddhism. Within the Buddhist philosophy exists Four Noble Truths. One of the Noble Truths explains that expecting one to conform to your expectations will only lead to suffering. If one leads a life of compassion and seeks wisdom through being compassionate, then suffering will cease to exist. Along with this, Buddhism is tolerant of all other religions and does not pay concern to religious labels ( If we give too much value to labels, or music therapy methodology, our profession may head towards suffering. My connection here is that we can easily create conflict when deciding which music therapy techniques are “best” or which have the most research to support the rationality of client outcomes. We lose track of what’s most important – what works “best” for the client.

Consider the differences regarding our music therapy education and training, nationally and internationally. On this trip particularly, US students gather from three separate universities to embark abroad to Thailand. Once they arrive, the separation is not of which university, but now of culture. At the end of the trip the barrier dissolves and what forms is a transcultural, unified group of student music therapists where boundaries no longer exist in terms of language, culture, or university. Through shared experiences in the classroom and clinical arena the concern, if any, evolves into collectively and collaboratively discovering the best way to help the client(s).

Our tolerance of others' perspectives, beliefs, and music therapy approaches, professional or personal, can directly transfer to the therapeutic relationship we hold with our client(s). We give our clients infinite positive regard and abstain from judgment. As a student or professional music therapist, our differences in methodology are nothing if our aims are identical and in the best interest of the client. Regardless of our philosophical approach, professional method, or personal technique we must recognize the values of others' perspectives. We prefer our own way of doing things, but diminish our ability to grow if we remain stuck in a mindset of certainty. Expecting to grow without recognizing multiple perspectives is much like trying swim in a bathtub; one will not get far.

There is an amount of humility and vulnerability that comes along with our human experience. If we embrace the inevitability of ambiguity and become vulnerable to change, I believe we are free to look for wisdom in opposing opinions without compromising what is valuable in our own. Much like international travel, a student will enter a country with specific preferences and morals that define who they are. However, one will not become a Buddhist Monk and achieve the highest level of meditation during a 6-week long trip abroad. One’s home culture will remain intact, while the individual will grow in many different ways through exposure to new experiences, beliefs, philosophies, and culture. Stay committed to your beliefs, but flexible in your approach.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful! Your roots run deep; the source of your beliefs. A tree could not stand strong if it weren't for the changing winds to give it strength. Love. Dad