[Guest Post] OCMT Sponsor – Music Together

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Creativity in Decision Making

Carol Ann Blank, MMT, MT-BC

Blog Post #3 OCMT 2015

In this entry, I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about the role of the therapist in music therapy.  Specifically, I am going to summarize Sears’ (2007) Processes of Music Therapy and draw some links between Sears’ Processes and our previous discussion of systems theory.  Let’s get to it, and whatever doesn’t get covered in this post we will cover in my OCMT session. 

To my knowledge, there is no theoretical framework in discipline of music therapy guiding the practice of music therapy with young children and families.   I imagine that this will emerge as the knowledge base of music therapy in early childhood expands.  For the present, I’ve chosen to adopt Sears’ model for its resonance with systems theory (see my previous blog post), particularly because of his attention to relationship as the primary agent of change. 

Sears classified the underlying constructs of music therapy processes in three ways: 

1. Experience within structure

2. Experience in self-organization

3. Experience in relating to others

According to Sears (2007), music has the ability to provide experiences to clients in unique ways that promote the client’s new (or enhanced) awareness of himself or herself, of another person, of music, or of life itself.  For Sears, the inherent structure of music itself (experience within structure) leads to an individual’s ability to experience himself or herself as being affected in some way by the music (experience in self-organization).  Experience in self-organization then informs an individual’s experience of himself or herself within the context of a larger group (experience in relating to others) (Sears, 2007). 

Sears’ Processes of Music Therapy


For Sears, the relationship between the therapist and the client (or clients) is the agent of change.  The “stuff” of relationships—the music making, and recognizing and interpreting musical- and non-musical cues, and deciding on the course of treatment—is what systems theory writers would identify as equifinality, feedback, and adaptiveness (Bateson, 1972; Bertalanffy, 1968). 

Types of Change

Music therapy is about change.  The kind of change is determined by assessment, with input by the client (generally the parent, in this case) or other stakeholders whenever possible.  Systems theory identifies two levels of change that occurs as a result of the equifinality-feedback-adaptiveness cycle.  First order change occurs when there is superficial change to the system (Watzlawick, Weakland, & Fisch, 2011).  No transformation of patterns between the members of the system (such as, between the parent and the child).  Perhaps there was a lovely moment during the music therapy session in which the mother and child held each other’s gaze and vocalized together.  This could be significant!  But it does not mean that the relationship has experienced a second order change.

Second order change occurs when the functioning of the system as a whole is changed, including patterns of maladaptive behavior (Watzlawick et al, 2011).  The parent and child begin to establish patterns of responding to the music therapist’s prompts to relate and communicate in positive, musical ways.  Through the implementation of a home program that is designed to bolster the parent’s feeling of success, the parent reports being able to soothe her child to sleep or engage the young child in a musical game while standing on line in the grocery store thereby avoiding a tantrum!  These are examples of second order change.  Parents and children responding and relating to each other in more positive ways as a result of having engaged in a creative, musical process that leaves their relationship changed for the better—this is a worthy goal of music therapy.

Creativity and Change

What does all this discussion of processes and change have to do with creativity?  To be blunt: everything.  If I don’t understand the underlying structure of what it is I am creating for a family during a music therapy session, I am little more than a nice person who sings songs and shakes instruments for them.  Unless I understand that, as Sears (2007) declared, the music therapist hold the primary responsibility for all of the elements of the music therapy session, I will not know how to modify and change these elements (musical ones and non-musical ones) in order to address the presenting needs of the clients (parent and child).  In addition, if I am satisfied with first order change (Watzalawick, et al., 2011), and the parent-child dyad feel entertained and maybe a bit happier, then I have not committed to the process of therapy which should be, as I understand it now, focused on second order change. 

I cannot do any of this unless I remain engaged with the music and with my awareness of how the experience of music shapes me and my clients.  It is helpful to review the definition of creativity I discussed in my first blog post

Creativity is any act, idea, or product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing domain into a new one.  (Csikszentmihalyi, 2007).

Creativity is not a haphazard experience, but one that has to be grounded in understanding our craft on a theoretical and practice level.  I look forward to our continued dialog.


Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

Bertalanffy, L. v. (1968). General system theory. New York, NY: George Braziller, Inc.

Csiksentmihalyi, M. (2007). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York:

Harper Perennial.

Davey, M. P., Davey, A., Tubbs, C., Savla, J., & Anderson, S. (2012). Second order change and evidence-

based practice. Journal of Family Therapy, 34, 72-90.

Sears, W. W. (2007). Music-the therapeutic edge: Readings from William W. Sears [Kindle Edition],  

Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/.

Watzlawick, P., Weakland, J. H., & Fisch, R. (2011). Change: Principles of problem formulation and

problem resolution. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

The reader is encouraged to seek out Music Therapy with Children and their Families (2008) edited by Amelia Oldfield and Claire Flower for more examples of music therapy’s impact on the relationships between parents and their children.  The literature in family systems theory also addresses second order change.  Please see Davey, Davey, Tubbs, Savla, & Anderson (2012) for a discussion of second order change and evidence-based practice in family therapy.

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