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Shapiro, Y. Marks-Tarlow, T. Fridman, J. (2016). Listening Beneath the Words: Parallel Processes in Music and Psychotherapy. IJP Open, 3:21.

(2016). IJP Open, 3:21

Listening Beneath the Words: Parallel Processes in Music and Psychotherapy

Yakov Shapiro, Terry Marks-Tarlow and Joseph Fridman

Musical performance and improvisation bear meaningful parallels to verbal and non-verbal dimensions of psychotherapeutic exchange. In listening to music, we do not analyze the notes but follow the development of interweaving musical themes with an associative-emotional focus that blends musical content, expression and impact on the listener. Utilizing the associative-emotional focus in the patient-therapist interaction may help to supplement the emphasis on verbal content with timing, rhythms and prosody of the relational exchange. The treatment process mirrors ‘playing with the composer,’ an intimate affective engagement in ‘relational improvisation’ that can alter the established trajectory of dissonant ‘relational melodies’ in the patient's life. Just as a musician has to allow spontaneity of interpretation rather than simply try to play the right notes, the therapist has to shift away from reliance on manualized theory and technique in order to engage in the flexible flow of the fractal enactment motifs in the therapy room. Staying centered in the ‘acoustic field’ of these relational melodies helps the therapist to listen beneath the words, integrating the focus on the patient’s objective presentation with the vicissitudes of his or her subjective meaning and the intersubjective milieu unique to each patient-therapist pair. The intersection of the objective, subjective and intersubjective domains defines the experiential space of the therapy process and the emergent and patient/therapist complex adaptive system, which catalyzes therapeutic change by enabling self-organizing potential through mutual relational synchrony.

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