[Book review] Wheeler, B. L. and Murphy, K. (2016). Music Therapy Research: Third Edition.

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[Book review] Wheeler, B. L. and Murphy, K. (2016). Music Therapy Research: Third Edition.


Arns, B. (2017).[book review].Wheeler, B.L. and Murphy, K. (2016).Music therapy research: Third edition. Australian Journal of Music Therapy, 28, 86-88.Retrieved from https://www.austmta.org.au/journal/article/book-review-wheeler-b-l-and-murphy-k-2016-music-therapy-research-third-edition 

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Date published: November 2017

Wheeler, B.L. and Murphy, K. (2016). Music therapy research: Third edition. Dallas, TX: Barcelona Publishers. AUS $166, 758 pages (hard copy), ISBN: 9781937440886 (e-book) 


The third edition of Music Therapy Research is a comprehensive volume, superseding the previous two editions through a significant expansion of content and by showcasing the increasing diversity in research within the music therapy profession. Barbara Wheeler and Kathleen Murphy have succeeded in producing a current, relevant and useful resource for researchers, students, educators and clinicians. It is clear to see how this text complements undergraduate and graduate research coursework, and assists the clinician in thinking about the relationship of research to practice.


The structure of content has been laid out in a logical sequence for the researcher undertaking a project, including considerations for each stage of the research journey. Sixty-eight chapters in total (increased from forty-one in the previous edition) are organised under nine units. Unit one offers an updated overview of music therapy research by Wheeler and Bruscia, and an historical portrait by Merrill describing the growth of music therapy research over time. These chapters give a good introduction to the scope of and significance of music therapy research. These are followed by two chapters reflecting on the relationship between research and practice, and research and theory. Unit two contains chapters on the mechanics of crafting a research project, including the development of a topic, reviewing the literature, ethical thinking, multicultural considerations, working with other disciplines and the securing of funding. These provide the backdrop for the researcher in making sure their work is feasible, well-informed, ethical and sensitive to participants and audiences alike. Unit three delves into the epistemological foundations of objectivist and interpretivist research, and then addresses the issues of each paradigm in separate chapters. From here, the paths diverge, with unit four covering methodological concerns in objectivist research, and unit five focusing on interpretivist research. These units describe some of the criticisms of each type of research, including issues of measurement in objectivist research, and the collection and interpretation of data in interpretivist research.


The following three units form the majority of the content with no less than forty-one research designs included. Objectivist designs are grouped under single subject and small n research, descriptive research, pre-experimental designs, quasi- experimental designs and experimental designs. Interpretivist designs are grouped under natural setting approaches, phenomenology, meaning-focused approaches, language-focused approaches, theoretical approaches and case approaches. Other types of research described include microanalysis, mixed method designs, systematic review, meta-analysis and synthesis, historical research and philosophical inquiry. Finally, unit nine offers concluding chapters on recommendations for evaluating objectivist and interpretivist research, and the process of writing up and preparing research for publication.


There have been some changes in this latest edition aside from the content layout. Most notably, the shift to grouping chapters into objectivist and interpretivist research, rather than qualitative and quantitative, as in the second edition. Wheeler writes that by using these terms, she hopes this will encourage “music therapy researchers to think beyond a specific research methodology and to consider the complex nature of music and the full range of human experience when developing their research questions” (p. 45). I found this a refreshing perspective, encouraging greater clarity in linking ontology, epistemology and research design when shaping a starting idea into a research study.


As a new researcher, I found this book to be very helpful, and was appreciative of the large quantity of information made available in one place. After becoming familiar with the content, it was the reference that I would return to repeatedly during the course of my research, particularly in looking for reading signposts in the reference lists of the relevant chapters. Seeing descriptions brought to life through the frequent use of illustrative research examples was also very useful. Even when the examples did not match the description exactly, the points of difference in approach were also clarified. I particularly found the chapters on epistemological foundations and methodology to be explained well, clearly enough for someone thinking through these concepts for the first time, but in plenty of depth to consider how to relate the information to my own study. I also found the chapters on reading and evaluating literature to be valuable and applicable to my workplace for staff professional development, not just for music therapists. As a clinician, I look to implement the findings of research into my practice. However, I believe that a refresher on how to critically evaluate research findings is of great relevance at any stage of one’s career. For the clinician currently not engaged in research, moving the chapters on evaluating research to the introductory section may make for a section of great relevance to this specific audience.


    This volume includes contributions from 71 authors from 12 different countries, representing a rich spectrum of international culture, education and experience. The expanded section on interpretivist research design reflects the growing number of studies in music therapy being conducted in this style, and the expansion of content illustrates the growth of music therapy research around the world. At over 5kg, the hardback edition is definitely an ‘on the desk’ volume, not for frequent carrying around or shipping.


Wheeler and Murphy have made a huge contribution to the music therapy profession through compiling a thorough, updated manual on reading, writing and understanding quality music therapy research and gathering the collective knowledge and wisdom of a generous group of international experts in the field. Music Therapy Research is an essential text for university libraries, and for anyone educating researchers, conducting research or music therapy clinicians wishing to remain well informed on the current state of research in their profession and its relationship to practice.