The Development of a Music Therapy School Consultation Protocol for Students with High or Very High Special Education Needs
Music therapy school consultation is positioned to become a significant practice for music therapists. Historically, music therapy work with children who have special education needs in New Zealand has focused on those who attend special schools or units and, according to the published literature, seems to have taken place in clinic settings or withdrawal rooms. The current emphasis on inclusive education demands that music therapists consider other ways of working. Further, a paucity of music therapists and the geographic isolation of many students who attend their local schools suggest that the large majority of students who would benefit are unable to access music therapy services. The aims of the current study therefore were for a music therapist to empower members of special education teams to use music experiences which had been especially planned to assist children to meet individual developmental or academic goals, and to describe how the process was perceived, understood, used, and valued by participants. A further aim was to develop and trial a protocol for music therapists undertaking consultation work. Eight registered music therapists interviewed in stage one of the study, to aid the development of the initial protocol, had differing views and attitudes about consultation, and findings confirmed the need to clearly define the practice. The initial protocol was therefore fragile, based on limited understandings from sparse music therapy consultation literature and the author's previous experience of working with team members in isolated areas. In stage two, four consecutive case studies enabled the protocol to be trialled in the field and, using an action research approach, to be developed further. Accumulated learning outcomes led to the development of a music therapy school consultation protocol based on social learning theory which emphasises the interdependent relationships between the consultant's (music therapist), consultees' (identified team members), and clients' (students) behaviour, their internal personal factors, and environmental factors. The establishment of collaborative relationships, and an ecological assessment which is based on the theory that human development is influenced by environmental systems (Bronfenbrenner, 1989), are critical components of the protocol. Thus the music therapist spends a full week at each student's school. Findings demonstrate that interacting with team members as they went about their daily lives led to deeper understanding of their needs and in turn enabled pragmatic, accessible, and meaningful music activities and strategies to be successfully implemented. A 'clinical' music therapy session remains an important part of the protocol, but findings suggest its primary significance is in highlighting students' strengths so that team members develop fresh understandings and increasingly positive views of students that enhance their mutual relationships. Team members became more motivated, energised, self reflective, and able to support as well as challenge their students' development. They were thus able to continue to use, develop and evaluate their use of music strategies, after the music therapist left the field. Music therapists are currently unprepared for the triadic relationships and the emphasis on adult empowerment that is fundamental to consultation. The findings therefore have significant implications for music therapy practice and training. These implications, including areas for future research, are discussed herein.