The past year has brought about some big transitions in my life and these transitions have prompted me to think about my identity both as a music therapist and as a person. Having been a music therapy educator for many years, I have had the honor of watching many students develop into music therapists. One of the aspects that is most exciting is watching them develop their sense of identity as a music therapist and how they integrate that into their larger personal identity.
Coming from a teaching philosophy which encourages students to be unique and to incorporate who they are as a person into their budding identity as a music therapist, I have observed that no two journeys of identity development are the same. This teaching philosophy also supports the ideal that the professional identity one develops should be congruent with who one is, and who one wants to be in the world. Being a music therapist, to me, is not a job that you leave at the office at 5 pm. Being a music therapist has to do with an outlook on life and a philosophy of being in the world. I try to impress this on my students. Clearly, while many of my students understand and embrace this philosophy, some honestly don’t! That isn’t a problem. What is important to me is that I live in a way that is congruent with what I believe, and hold this as a model for my students.
Alan Turry (2001) wrote about being a Nordoff-Robbins music therapist as a spiritual discipline. He stated, "Creative Music Therapy is, if looked at in the context of spiritual practices, a type of yoga that leads to raised consciousness and an expanded capacity to love, just as do meditation and prayer" (p. 375). That so clearly describes what I mean by integration of one’s identity as a music therapist with one’s identity as a person.
For many years it was unacceptable to talk about one’s spiritual orientation as a music therapist; talking about religion or spirituality was taboo. When I was a new music therapy educator there were many times I questioned why a therapist would ever bring his/her spiritual orientation into clinical work. Many educators and therapists, myself included, were concerned that music therapists might proselytize or be unable to support clients with a different spiritual orientation. The good news is that those attitudes have since changed. More music therapists are now willing to discuss their spirituality and how it influences their work. This is quite appropriate if their spirituality is central to who they are as therapists. I would still argue that music therapists should focus on the needs of the client and not impose their spiritual orientation or practices on clients, however spiritual practices can be central to who they are as a therapist. Making explicit one’s spiritual orientation makes sense as it contributes to one’s broader identity.
Spirituality has become something music therapists are much more willing to talk about and to share and there seems to be much less shame or fear involved in claiming one’s spiritual identity as Buddhist, Jew, Hindu, Christian, Pagan, or Atheist. As a music therapy educator I embrace diverse spiritual orientations. This diversity brings a richness to discussions and helps everyone grow in their understandings of other views of the world.
This leads me to question what other aspects of our personal identity can or should be integrated into our identity as a music therapist. Claiming one’s sexual orientation as a part of one’s identity as a music therapist has recently been raised by my colleague Colin Lee (2008) in his recent articles for Voices. I applaud his openness and it has caused me to wonder why we haven’t talked more about sexual orientation as an aspect of identity development as music therapists. Lee’s article has prompted a number of responses which dealt primarily with issues of marginalization (Hancock-Marsh 2008; Kagetsu, 2008; White, 2009). The discussion of sexual orientation has become especially important to me as I have recently claimed a new identity in middle age as a lesbian.
Years ago, teaching a music therapy class, a student came out in class and stated she was a lesbian. She stated she did not want to be invisible to her classmates and that she wanted to own her orientation. Quite honestly, as I recall, I fumbled some response of thanking her for sharing but I didn’t really help her integrate her sexual orientation into her identity as a music therapy student. At the time I was supportive of her coming out, but not sure why she needed to do so. It certainly started me wondering what role being GLBTQ had in one’s identity as a music therapist. However, in integrating my own new identity as a lesbian I understand now the importance of sharing this information. This is especially true in a world where being straight is what is assumed.
At this juncture we have the opportunity to begin to discuss sexual orientation more openly and to examine, as we have begun to discuss with spirituality, how our sexual orientation - gay or straight - informs our work as music therapists. As with spirituality, it isn’t about imposing our beliefs on others, but it is about integrating all aspects of who we are into our identity as music therapists.
Music therapists with some visibility, like Colin and like me, have a role to play in owning this identity and helping start these important conversations. I welcome this opportunity to continue this important discussion about the role of sexual orientation in one’s professional identity as a music therapist.
Hancock-Marsh, Justine (2009). Response to "Reflections On Being A Music Therapist and A Gay Man" [Contribution to Moderated Discussions] Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved from http://www.voices.no/discussions/discm92_03.html
Kagetsu, Laurie (2008). Response to "Reflections on Being a Music Therapist and a Gay Man" [Contribution to Moderated Discussions] Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved from http://www.voices.no/discussions/discm92_01.html
Lee, Colin (2008). Reflections on Being a Music Therapist and a Gay Man. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved June 17, 109, from http://www.voices.no/mainissues/mi40008000278.php
Turry, Alan (2001) Supervision in Nordoff-Robbins Music THerapy Training Program. In M. Forinash (Ed.). Music Therapy Supervision. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona Publishers.
White, Bill (2009). Response to "Reflections on Being a Music Therapist and a Gay Man" [Contribution to Moderated Discussions] Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved from http://www.voices.no/discussions/discm92_02.html
Forinash, Michelle (2009). On Identity. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=colforinash290609