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Music therapy with adults with learning difficulties and
‘severe challenging behaviour'

Warner, Catherine

Music therapy with adults with learning difficulties and 
‘severe challenging behaviour' Thumbnail



This thesis describes and analyses an action research inquiry where weekly group music therapy sessions were offered to five residents in their community home over the course of a year. The residents each had a history of institutional living, learning difficulties, and the label of ‘severe challenging behaviour’. The inquiry is in the tradition of participatory action research, and draws from both the new paradigm approaches of Reason and Heron and critically reflexive action research.
The inquiry took the form of two parts. A co-operative inquiry involved home staff, music therapists and daycare workers who reflected critically on the impact, benefits, barriers and threats to the music therapy process. The therapy sessions became the arena for inquiry between the residents, music therapists and daycare worker. Involvement in the dual aspects of therapeutic process and research inquiry was managed by careful consideration of the therapeutic boundaries, ongoing ethical discussion within the co-operative inquiry and perspectives from independent advisers with learning difficulties.
We as co-researchers sought to inquire into the benefits of the music therapy group within the community home. The perspective of the residents, who had few language skills, became central to this process. The main focus for inquiry within the sessions was through changes that developed within the musical relationships and by resident action. The extended epistemology of new paradigm research emphasises forms of knowing that were accessible to the residents, such as experiential, practical and arts-based forms of knowledge. Analysis of the data involved collaborative reflection, often provoked by the use of different media, rigorous thematic analysis and creative forms in the representation of the data.
I situate the context through personal, practical, theoretical, historical, political and ethical perspectives, leading to the inquiry narratives. A detailed explanation of the thematic analysis follows before the data are presented in chapters named after each resident.
The use of music as a primary means of inquiry has meant a tension when this non-verbal experience is described in words. A number of benefits of the music therapy emerged, such as changing fixed relationship patterns and the expression of a group identity. However, the primary contribution of this research is the way in which people with severe learning difficulties were able to influence the course of the inquiry themselves, and challenge staff and institutional perceptions.


‘severe challenging behaviour'. (Thesis). University of the West of England. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Publicly Available Date Jun 9, 2019
Keywords music therapy, learning difficulties, severe challenging behaviour
Public URL
Award Date Aug 1, 2005


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