In this article the author explores the creation, experience and meaning of music from a number of different perspectives. Although his principal aim is to contribute to the development of theory and practice in music psychotherapy, the author proposes that the thinking he presents also potentially has a wider application beyond the therapeutic sphere. That is in developing our understanding of how music is experienced to be meaningful because of the way it functions psychologically.

The author presents a framework of levels of consciousness, suggesting that music can be understood to be therapeutically meaningful in many different ways at each level of consciousness whilst ultimately it is transcendent of meaning all together. In his exploration of this, the author draws especially on contemporary psychoanalytic perspectives that can be used to understand the role of dream level processes in making everyday experience manageable as well as meaningful at an emotional level. This is dreaming understood to be an unconscious activity of the mind occurring day and night, dream level processes being involved in both creating and experiencing music. It is as a result of these that music can potentially generate experiences of Truth that are not only meaningful at a personal level but psychologically resonant ultimately at a transpersonal level of consciousness beyond knowing. Such experiential Truth from a contemporary psychoanalytic perspective provides the psyche’s most essential type of nurturance. The author considers this to be fundamental to music’s potential as a psychotherapeutic medium.

The author is particularly concerned in the article with intersubjectivity. That is with the dynamics of relationship between client and therapist when they create (dream) music together in improvisation based music psychotherapy. In this the experience is of being both ‘one’ and ‘separate’ as is characteristic of the nature of relationship at the level of dream consciousness. Two different levels or aspects of intersubjectivity are explored drawing on developmental psychology as well as psychoanalysis. The author proposes that health involves being able to maintain the inevitable tension between being ‘one’ and ‘separate’ and draws out the therapeutic implications of this. Finally brief reference is made to the ‘oneness’ of transpersonal music experiences whether in active or receptive forms of music psychotherapy.

The author, Martin Lawes is trained as a music therapist in the UK and specializes in work with children and young people with autism and other special needs. He is also trained in the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music, using this modality in his work with clients in a specialist palliative care setting. He has presented and published both nationally and internationally on many occasions and is involved in music therapy training.

Read Martin Lawes’ article here.