Thank you for taking the time to join me for a little while on my journey to understand how tacit knowledge impacts the practice of music therapy with parent-child dyads. I have been immersed in data about music therapists’ clinical decision making processes for the last year, and I have come to understand that tacit knowledge is a phenomenon that deeply impacts our work. This blog entry will begin by defining our terms before we dig more deeply into different areas of practice to see how tacit knowledge winds its way through our work.
Tacit knowledge is defined as
…the concept of a form of knowing that is not codified, because (it is) not “calculable” with some analogue of a ruler, but which answers nevertheless to a genuine standard of correctness. This is what we will call “tacit knowledge”. (Gascoigne & Thorton, 2014, p. 3).
There is a relationship between music therapists’ processes in music therapy and tacit knowledge. Sears’ (2007) processes in music therapy are these:
- Experience within structure
- Experience in self-organization
- Experience in relating to others
Sears goes on to state:
“The Processes are a trinity of you, what you do and how you go about it, and your relation to others or the environment” (2008, Kindle Locations 782-783).
However, tacit knowing appears to be a phenomenon that cannot be explicated in the moment. It’s
…the sort of ineffable understanding that we possess when we recognize a problem as a problem, or a solution as a solution to a problem when no criteria of verification (or, paradigm of normal science) is available is tacit knowing/ understanding. Moreover, such knowing is objective (while being personal) because it is (and is affirmed as being) based on powers we possess for “recognizing rationality in nature” (Gascoigne & Thornton, 2014, p. 23).
This is why it is so difficult to explain why I am choosing this instrument or song in the moment, especially when I work improvisationally with a parent-child dyad. Sometimes, I can’t articulate it until I step back and take a look at the whole arch of the session or of several sessions.
For part of my dissertation research, I interviewed music therapists who worked with parent-child dyads using the Music Together Within Therapy (MTWT) approach to their work. The MTWT approach relies heavily on the individual clinician’s own decision making process when implementing therapy. Music Together Within Therapy makes available material and support to the clinician. The clinician assesses the client, designs the treatment plan in consultation with the parent/caregiver, and implements treatment in accordance with the standards of practice of the credentialing body the therapist is affiliated with.
We reviewed video of them working with a parent child dyad. The open-ended interview followed a protocol that is too much to detail here; it is enough to say that the clinicians were asked to reflect on their own clinical decision making process with a parent-child dyad. This is where it got interesting. I asked questions such as “Why did you choose that song just then?” or “How did you know to bring the guitar back at this time?” The therapists had a variety of answers, but sentiment that recurred with some frequency could be summarized as “I am not sure. I suppose I just knew it was the right thing to do at the time”.
Of course, as we spent time unpacking their thought processes together, the rationale for the song choice or bringing back the guitar became quite clear and logical. This got me thinking: How much of our work as music therapists with parent-child dyads is based in tacit knowledge?
This is an important question. Music therapy practice seeks to balance many factors: the focus on evidence based practice, clinician knowledge, and the field’s documented best practices. These three sources of information are all at play in the treatment of young children with disabilities or special needs. If one of the information sources is based in tacit knowledge, we should be concerned.
In future blogs, I will use some examples of when I was acting on tacit knowledge in my work with parent-child dyads and unpack some of what I’ve been learning about tacit knowledge and how it can be situated within different theories of clinical practice both within and outside of music therapy. This all will build to my session at the OCMT conference. I hope you will join us!
Gascoigne, Neil; Thornton, Tim (2014-09-03). Tacit Knowledge (p. 23). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
Sears, William W. (2011-10-02). Music, The Therapeutic Edge: Readings from William W. Sears. Barcelona Publishers. Kindle Edition.