Review of Peters' Music Therapy: An Introduction, 3rd Edition

Peters' Music Therapy: An Introduction, 3rd Edition
by Wanda Lathom-Radocy

Charles C Thomas Publisher Ltd, Springfield, IL 2016

804 pp., illus. 1 b/w. Trade, $79.95

ISBN: 978-0-398-09109-5

Reviewed by
Richard Kade
May 2017

The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted. — Mark the music.

—Lorenzo in William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act V, Scene 1

Music is the universal language of mankind.

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, A Psalm of Life, 1839

This book's blurb is honest in its self-assessment as an update of the previous edition replete with "changes in terminology to reflect the publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Ed. (DSM-5), which was published in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association."

Divided into three major sections, the first "defines music therapy and discusses the music therapist's education and training." The next canvasses "the historical background for music therapy, the perspective of the use of music in healing practices from ancient times to the present." The other 92% "begins with a discussion of general guidelines for using music in therapy, followed by specific examples of music therapy clinical practices with various client populations ... [concluding] with an overview of several approaches to music therapy practice and a discussion of the importance of research for the practicing clinician."

This book "is directed primarily toward students in introductory music therapy courses and professionals in related disciplines who desire a basic knowledge of the scope of music therapy."

My objective in reading this work was to reconcile preconceived notions of application of what I thought over a year ago was the use of music to test and, if possible, stimulate cognition for a patient we can call Diana. My empirical results, while at odds with the potential touted in this book, were inconclusive since the uncontrollable factor was the effect of medications administered to thwart theoretical thrombosis.

Before this book was published, a family friend who is a retired clinical psychiatrist (and member of the American Psychiatric Association mentioned at the end of the first sentence of this review) disabused me of most misconceptions concerning "music therapy" by pointing out that the field of study "is legitimate but must be qualified by definitions, etc. Music can be helpful to many people, is harmless and, assuming headphones are at safe DB levels, has no pernicious side effects."

He continued "calling it therapy, however, is somewhat troublesome since that implies a malady exists. If 'soothing the savage breast' is an adequate reason for its application, fine. The APA has tended in recent years to include quite a number of human conditions and behaviors in their diagnostic manual. This gives an aura of legitimate medical authenticity to them. These doctors have a vested interest in this for payment purposes."

Back to my case study, before Diana's mini-stroke (a little over a week after her 93rd birthday in late 2015) she had not been sick a day in her life. When her nieces' adult children and grandchildren e-mailed on her birthday asking how she stayed so healthy never seeing a doctor in 93 years, she used her favorite line, "Just keep breathing!"

By late January, as "systems and subsystems" (her terminology) were starting their shutdown, she was tiring of the persistent tests for neurological dysfunction and, when asked for her birthday, what the date was and to remember three words mentioned before the "distraction questions," she refused to respond. Once the doctor (Diana called her a neuro-Nazi) left, she asked me to obtain her home phone number and, at 3:30 AM, call asking her to spell the name: Zbigniew Brzezinski.

A few hours after this episode, a therapist asked Diana if she wanted to hear some music. When she nodded "yes," headphones were put on her. The iPod played a performance of a work she had heard since early childhood by Deems Taylor, Through the Looking Glass. As six chords started the "Jabberwocky" movement Diana began to recite the words from the poem, "Twas brillig, and the slithy toves ..." (Too bad the neurologist missed that display of syllogistic flamboyance.)

One factor that might have neutralized any music therapy cause-and-effect was that Diana was an accomplished musician having studied piano, theory and composition at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester, NY, in her youth and becoming soprano soloist (without ever having taken a voice lesson in her life) in choral, operatic, symphonic and recital repertoire for over a quarter of a century.

Other interests included photography, astrophysics, gourmet cooking, avionics (she had a pilot's license by age 17), an addiction to the NY Times Saturday Crossword Puzzles and a passion for machine knitting. Diana maintained she was her own best doctor and, once she recognized the treatments were not working she gave her summary, "All in all, 93 years is not a bad score." (In light of her admonition to "keep breathing," the word "hypoxia" on the death certificate seems to underscore her perspicacity.)

A final word on the book itself is in order. While Lorenzo and Longfellow (see epigraphs) were wrong about therapeutic potential of music, as comprehensive a compendium of case studies for each facet of the subject matter is contained in this work, its utility is the most limited imaginable.