When I went to school for music therapy, the research focus was on quantitative research, that is to say research that produces measurable results. Does one treatment work better than another and by how much? What are the differences between baseline, immediately after treatment or six weeks later?
However, when you are looking at thoughts and feelings or creating a theory of treatment, a different methodology is in order. The language of qualitative research can be a great deal different as well. A qualitative study may focus on a smaller, more homogenous group of people. Qualitative research also seems more likely to acknowledge and even embrace the researcher’s biases.
For instance, a recent study that I read used Grounded Theory and situational analysis to examine the experiences of caregivers in hospice. The focus wasn’t on whether or not treatment was effective, though the results seemed to show that they received positive benefits. In addition, the researchers focused on a very particular group of caregivers, namely those family members, friends, or neighbors, who may have sat in on or participated in some way in a music therapy session for the person they provided care for. Data was gathered in narratives. A computer program analyzed the words used. Researchers then looked at the context in which those words were used and created themes.
I will admit I tend to prefer cut and dried numbers. It has taken a little while for me to understand the concept and value of this type of research. Knowing how patients and/or their caregivers experience music therapy can help inform my practice and make me a better clinician.
If you would like to know more about music therapy research, check out the Journal of Music Therapy published by The American Music Therapy Association or the Music Therapy Research blog