Exploring playfulness in paediatric music therapy using an action research approach
Playfulness is a disposition which promotes adaptability across the lifespan. Attuned co-playfulness is a therapeutic tool requiring self-awareness of the disposition by the therapist. As a music therapy student working on a paediatric ward in a therapeutic play environment, the intersection of music therapy, therapeutic play and playfulness inspired this research. Specific research on playfulness in music therapy is limited. This research investigated playfulness in music therapy practice: how and when playfulness manifested in interpersonal interaction, both within and without music, to foster the therapeutic process. Using an interpretivist, qualitative methodology and an action research approach, three cycles of action research were completed. Cycle one examined how playfulness was evidenced in my practice. Playfulness was evident when I was childlike, free from rules, the music therapy had elements of incongruence, I used humour or experienced joy. Playfulness was most evident with children up to five years of age. Cycle two explored playfulness in music therapy with children in middle childhood. Themes from this cycle included giving children time to warm up, using humour and primarily, collaboration. Cycle three explored the context for playfulness. Playfulness was most evident when music therapy occurred in the playroom or at bedside, without interruption. Playfulness was more evident with a supportive family member present and when there was some familiarity between music therapy student and patient. Confidence levels, health status and responses to the hospital environment impacted on playfulness for both patients and the music therapy student. Playfulness was shown to be a marker of health and wellbeing for the music therapy student. Experiencing a lack of playfulness was a potential indicator of secondary traumatic stress and the need for increased self-care. Exhibiting a lack of playfulness was an appropriate clinical strategy which enabled affective state attunement with participants, supporting the intersubjective therapeutic process. This research raises the relevance of playfulness as a viable therapeutic marker in music therapy for children and adolescents, and as an indicator of wellbeing for music therapists. The findings are specific to this research setting and period and are not generalizable.