Triangle Talks with Joke Bradt | The Triangle
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Triangle Talks with Joke Bradt

Joke Bradt is an associate professor in the College of Nursing and Health Professions. She is currently doing research on the effects of music therapy.

Triangle Talks: What first interested you in music therapy?

Photo Courtesy: Joke Bradt
Photo Courtesy: Joke Bradt

Joke Bradt: I actually was interested in studying medicine but I knew I was going to miss my music. I had been studying quite intently piano, ensemble playing and music composition in after-school music programs in Belgium. It was my piano teacher who introduced me to the idea of music therapy. I began reading some clinical case studies, then ordered music therapy books (several of which were written by Ken Bruscia from Temple University) and so my interest grew.

TT: What does music therapy entail?

JB: In music therapy, music interventions and the therapeutic process that develops through engagement in music are used to address specific needs of individuals and to enhance their strengths. Music therapists receive formal training at the undergraduate or graduate level and are board certified. We use many different music interventions, such as music improvisation, playing music instruments, singing songs, listening to prerecorded or live music, songwriting, composing music, music-guided imagery, and more. In my work with patients with chronic pain, I mostly use vocal improvisations, singing, chanting, songwriting and music-guided deep breathing. Through music making, music therapists help to strengthen people’s inner resources, maximize their potentials, provide new ways of expressing emotions and thoughts, and gain insights about their relationship to their own self and to others, just to name a few things.

TT: Do you have any current ongoing research projects?

JB: Yes. I am conducting a [National Institutes of Health]-funded study on the impact of an eight-week vocal music therapy program on core outcomes in chronic pain patients. This is a two-year study conducted at the Eleventh Street Family Health Services of Drexel University. In the vocal music therapy sessions, participants engage in humming, toning, vocal improvisations and vocal harmonizing. Chronic pain often results in people feeling stuck in a world dominated by pain, leaving them feeling disconnected from their bodies and the world. Through engagement in creative expression, the sessions are aimed at helping patients reconnect with their body in a positive way, improve emotional expressivity, facilitate meaning making, enhance mood, restore joy and energy, renew hope, and provide a strong sense of support. A preliminary analysis of the results showed very encouraging results. We are currently finishing up data collection and will be analyzing the data very soon.

I recently also completed a music therapy study with cancer patients at the [Drexel University College of Medicine] radiation oncology department and Hahnemann Hospital. The study examined the differential effects of music therapy sessions versus sessions in which patients listened to prerecorded music on symptom management. We are currently analyzing those results. Finally, I am the lead author of seven Cochrane Systematic Reviews. These reviews need to be updated every two years so I am always working on one or two Cochrane reviews at any given time, typically late at night or on weekends.

TT: Do you collaborate with professionals in other areas of study?

JB: Yes, collaboration with others is important. Especially as a junior researcher, I feel it is important to collaborate with senior researchers from inside or outside your field so that you can continue to learn. For my current NIH study, I was fortunate to have Dennis Turk from the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine at the University of Washington to be on my research team. He is a well-known chronic pain expert. For the music therapy study with cancer patients, I collaborated with Dr. Lydia Komarnicky-Kocher, chair of the DuCOM Radiation Oncology Department. I recently submitted a music therapy mixed methods research proposal to NIH with John Creswell as co-investigator. He is a leading expert in mixed methods research methodology. Girija Kaimal, art therapist and faculty member in our [doctoral] program, and I recently collaborated with the military on another NIH grant proposal to examine the impact of creative arts therapies on active duty soldiers with chronic pain and comorbid conditions. The research team on this study includes a medical doctor, a psychiatrist, an art therapist, a music therapist and a neuroscientist. For each of these projects, I have learned so much from collaborating with these professionals.

TT: What was your first research project? Would you do anything differently?

JB: My very first research project was my own dissertation, which examined the effects of music entrainment on postoperative pain in pediatric patients undergoing major orthopedic surgeries. I am not sure if I would change much except making sure to obtain funding so that I could hire research assistants. Conducting this study by myself meant that I was basically living 24/7 at Temple Children’s Hospital and Shriner’s Hospital, the two sites for my study.

TT: What do you teach at Drexel?

JB: I mostly teach research-related courses in our [doctoral] program: quantitative research methods, research philosophy and theories, and foundations of biostatistics. In addition to that, I advise doctoral dissertations.

TT: What brought you to Drexel?

JB: The innovative [doctoral] program in Creative Arts Therapies. This program was developed by Nancy Gerber and started in 2010. I was hired as the first tenure-track music therapy research faculty member in this program. It is quite a unique program in the field of creative arts therapies. When I saw the faculty position announcement, I was immediately intrigued. The program trains music therapists, dance-movement therapists, and art therapists to become scholars and stewards of our respective fields. The students take courses in traditional quantitative and qualitative methods but also in innovative and emergent research methods. That sets this program apart from others. Moreover, in their first year of study, the students take part in self-other artistic courses to help them explore concepts that are very important in creative arts therapy processes such as the intersubjective space, the use of metaphors, etc. These are things that are crucial to creative arts therapy sessions but that may be challenging to research and difficult to translate into words. These courses challenge the students to explore how to best research these concepts. Finally, the students take a series of interdisciplinary seminars to gain a better understanding of the contribution of different fields of study to the creative arts therapies.

TT: What is your background? Where are you from and what have you studied?

JB: I am from Belgium. After getting a master’s in music pedagogy in Belgium, I decided I wanted to become a music therapist. Since there was no training program yet in Belgium at that time, I looked at international programs and applied for a Fulbright grant to study at Temple University. I was lucky enough to get the Fulbright grant and came to Philadelphia in 1994. After obtaining my master’s at Temple, I went back to Belgium and worked there as a music therapist in psychiatry. I also worked with kids with cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. My interest in research brought me back to Temple University to get my [doctorate].

TT: What do you like to do most in Philly?

JB: My husband and I have a taekwondo club at the University of Pennsylvania, so teaching and practicing martial arts is probably my favorite thing to do in Philadelphia. By the way, our club is open to the wider community, so Drexel students, staff and faculty are welcome to join us at any time!

Triangle Talks is a weekly column that highlights members of the Drexel community.