Hello all,

In light of the new release of the Individual Music-Centered Assessment Profile for Neurodevelopmental Disorders (IMCAP-ND): A Clinical Manual, I thought it appropriate to re-post past blog entries that deal with the various aspects and dimensions regarding the relationship in music therapy. Enjoy! 


In mental health practicum the other week, a student asked how it is that one decides what to focus on in a session when the clients have so many different problems and limitations that need attention.  My reply to him was something like this:

“At every moment, your clients are telling you what they need. But this means that you must truly be listening. Listening doesn’t just happen with your ears, though. You also listen with your eyes, with your intuition, with your e-countertransferences, really with your whole being. You must listen deeply to what the client says, to what he doesn’t say, to what he tells you through behaviors, through affect, through interactions, and through the way he musically expresses himself and communicates. It is when you deeply listen to the client and respond to what he is telling you from moment to moment that you are truly engaged in therapy with the client.”

As an educator, I often struggle with how to teach undergraduate students about the less concrete but undoubtedly integral aspects of music therapy practice – things such as authenticity, trust, being “in the moment”, etc. Listening, I believe, is also one of these less concrete and yet integral aspects, and it is something that the profession as a whole doesn’t really discuss much. I don’t ever recall in my undergraduate education having a discussion about how to listen, or what listening really means. In fact, I don’t remember the last I time talked with my own students about this type of listening before the other day. But isn’t that ironic – that we don’t spend much time talking about listening, which is a necessary component of a modality that is based in sound and relationship?

Students spend a lot of time developing music listening skills at the undergraduate level: theory and ear training, music literature and history, etc. This knowledge and skill does not seem to automatically transfer into the clinical setting, however, and doesn’t always help with the type of listening that has to do with understanding another human being. I do often talk with my students about listening, listening and listening more to music to increase the ability to recognize styles, songs, voices, and to expand their repertoires. I wonder why I have always stopped there? Why haven’t I spent at least as much time talking about the type of listening that is necessary for working with another human being within music engagement?

Perhaps the heavy focus on “observation” presupposes the need to teach, learn and develop listening skills. While we certainly must sharpen our observation skills to be an efficient and effective music therapist, observation skills without real listening skills results in identification of behaviors without any of the personal context that allows for accurate interpretation of those behaviors and flexibility for response in the moment. True observation cannot happen without attention to all the aspects that are not necessarily objective and measurable. We know this to be fact if we believe in the power of music to express, connect and change. Listening deeply allows us to truly observe our clients in order to respond to the needs that they reveal to us moment by moment.

Listening is also the foundation for the development of relationship, whether that is relationship between individuals in daily life or between therapist and client. It is in listening that we come to know and understand another human being. In music therapy it is listening musically which allows us to know another in an even more complex and revelatory way. It is listening that allows us to respond to our clients in ways that reach the heart of what troubles them and keeps them from functioning at their highest potential. When the client feels she is truly heard, she knows that she is valued and respected, and will continue to seek out that interpersonal connection. This human connection is a necessity for our very survival, and when it occurs in music, the healing potentials multiply exponentially.

So, when I gave my student that response in class, I “heard” the light bulb go on for him and for several others, but it also went on for me. I am fortunate that my music therapy “up-bringing” in internship and in graduate school taught me to listen to my clients, even if it has become so second nature that I don’t consciously think about. Perhaps it is time for me to more consciously listen to my students in the same way. They too are telling me, from moment to moment, what is it they need for their learning and development as future music therapists. And I must listen…

Nancy A. Jackson, PhD, MT-BC, is a board certified music therapist with more than 19 years of clinical experience in areas including music psychotherapy and medical music therapy in both group and individual formats. She received both her Master’s in Music Therapy, and Doctor of Philosophy in Music Therapy degrees from Temple University. Her research interests include the understanding of anger and other emotions within the music psychotherapy process, creativity and self-expression as a component of health in music medicine, experiential learning in music therapy education, and professional supervision. Dr. Jackson frequently presents at conferences and teaches workshops at regional, national, and international levels. She is Director of Music Therapy at Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne. She can be reached at jacksonn@ipfw.edu


About drjohnmtbc

John A. Carpente, PhD, MT-BC, LCAT, NRMT, Assistant Professor in Music and Music Therapy at Molloy College, is the Founder and Executive Dir

4 responses »

  1. Bill Matney says:

    Hello Nancy,

    Thank you for the blog post; I enjoyed reading it. Would you happen to have the citation available for the University of North Texas study? I’m (perhaps mistakenly) assuming this study was facilitated by Chesky, but would appreciate looking at the details, given my particular study interests and that I live in Denton.


  2. Brian Abrams says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Nancy. For those of us not equally familiar with the wonderful organization, Audiences Unlimited, Inc. (I actually initially thought the “I” was for “Indiana” or “International”!), I suggest following this link, http://www.audiencesunlimited.org, which takes you to a site providing information on AUI’s purpose, mission, etc. Also, can you say more about the “Lillian” whom you thank for her vision? Thanks again!

  3. I very much enjoyed reading this, Nancy. Thanks for posting it!

  4. Grace Thompson says:

    Hi Nancy,
    Thank you for this great reflection on listening, and the implications listening has on relationship. I’m the tutor for our clinical training subject in Melbourne, and am looking forward to sharing your thougths with the students next semester.
    Happy new year to you!

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