There were many "faces of music therapy" at the recent European conference in Finland as proposed in the title of the event. We were presented with the usual range of theoretical and practical papers with what seemed from conversations with many colleagues to be a marked increase in the number of research papers connected to the completion of MA or PhD projects. Personally one abiding memory of the conference is the continual need to tell our stories.
The presentations that appeared to attract a great deal of interest both inside and outside of the classroom were those given by therapists who told a story from their clinical practice. I returned home with some of these stories continuing to resonate. These included Dorit Amir"s moving and terribly honest account of working with a Holocaust survivor (it will be hard to listen to Ravel"s Bolero again without recalling that extraordinary therapeutic journey) and two stories of how a young child and older man used music to assist in the last stages of living with cancer. Barbara Griessmeir related how a young boy discovered previously untapped musical potential, requesting during periods of music therapy to play the piano, saxophone and drums and to sing spirituals as a way of supporting himself and his family with his ending. Jane Lings told of an extensive song-writing process while working with a man at the local hospice, a story with profound implications both inside and outside of the therapy space.
These individual stories reminded me of one of my mentor"s constant requests. The late Professor David Baum (Director of the Institute of Child Health at the University of Bristol) always welcomed the telling of our stories. I remember him once saying that that if Freud could build up his whole theory of psychoanalysis on a series of brilliant case studies then how about music therapists spending more time doing the same before building their own theoretical models.
But it is not just about telling the stories of our patients and clients. We have our own stories that can and need to be told. As a trainer I continue to be fascinated and moved by the range of stories of people wanting to enter the profession. What were those early musical memories? What provided that spark to begin to think about training as a music therapist? In our recent Handbook of Music Therapy Sarah Hoskyns and I (2002) invited four colleagues to share some of these moments. We were able to document some of Jean Eisler"s early musical experiences, her life in Czechoslovakia and an epiphanic moment when finding the first book by Nordoff and Robbins at a crucial moment in her life. We heard of Elaine Streeter"s musical background as a pianist and composer and again an important meeting in 1974 with Nordoff and Robbins. Helen Odell-Miller made connections between her early musical and family life with both her parents being doctors. It is not surprising that Tony Wigram has now given the profession his latest book on improvisation. Tony appears to have been improvising from his early childhood. I shall always remember a time at Bristol University together when, on returning home from seeing the famous film version of "Cabaret" he went straight to the piano and played us accurately recalled versions of many of the main numbers.
This theme of "telling our stories" led me to propose to the Editorial Board of Voices that we initiate a series of interviews. We intend to interview not only some of our music therapy pioneers from around the world but also to include stories from trainees and those who have supported the development of our profession - musicians, other professionals and friends. It was with some trepidation that I contacted Mary Priestley to be the first in this series. Mary has contributed such a great deal to the profession and to our understanding of the discipline. She had been ill recently and I did not want to tire her unduly, yet was conscious of maximising the potential of this short time together for all who would eventually read the final text. Reading through the interview it is clear to see how all her different early experiences led up to that meeting with Juliette Alvin. Again there is the mix of personal and musical stories at a crucial time.
During the interview with Mary we touched on the notion of the "wounded healer" as it related very poignantly to Mary"s own life story and to many of our own as music therapists. Another author with the initials MP, Mercédès Pavlicevic, has written on this topic (Pavlicevic, 1997, ch. 13). I would like to end this column with a contribution to this notion and a personal story that I included as part of a presentation in Finland. I was exploring in supervision with a drama therapist how what can on one level appear as different roles - therapist, teacher, supervisor, researcher, writer, conductor - all have music at their source. Everything is connected to the music, even if indirectly as in a teaching session. When invited during the supervision to choose an object to symbolise my role in connecting to all the toy objects spread across the sand tray I surprised myself with the choice of a centaur. Why such a figure? This image stayed with me and struck a strong chord when a colleague, Eleanor Tingle, introduced me by chance a few weeks later to Michael Kearney"s inspiring book Mortally Wounded - one of those lovely moments of synchronicity. I knew something about centaurs but nothing about the details of the myth of Chiron, which is a central theme in Dr Kearney"s book (1996).
Chiron was the son of the Greek god Cronus. Since he was conceived when his mother, the earth nymph Philyra, was in animal form, he was born as a centaur having the lower body of a horse and the upper body of a man. Later adopted by Apollo, Chiron was educated by him in all his ways and became known as a physician, musician, teacher and wise prophet. He was initiated into the arts of leadership and taught many Greek heroes including Asklepios, the Greek god of healing. Centaurs were also famous for their drinking binges, so Dionysus also comes into the picture here (Apollo and Dionysus both needing to be present in constructive therapeutic work as I have proposed in earlier writings). The future changed dramatically with the arrival of Hercules and a subsequent row during which one of Hercules" arrows, poisoned with the blood of the Hydra, struck Chiron"s knee. This resulted in an incurable wound and an unsuccessful search for a cure. It was during this long period of his life that Chiron became renowned for his knowledge of healing plants and his empathy for the suffering of others. He became known as "the wounded healer."
The psychological implications for therapists do not stop at this stage in the story.
Later Hercules pleads for the half-immortal Chiron to be allowed to go down to Tartarus (symbolically a descent into the depths of the unconscious) in return for the release of Prometheus from his eternal torment. The exchange was agreed by Zeus, Chiron died and descended to the underworld. Finally Zeus interceded, immortalising Chiron as the constellation Centaurus.
I leave it to another time and to others to extrapolate all of the powerful resonances from this myth. But as the mythologist Carl Kerenyi (1959) writes:
...Chiron, the wounded divine physician,... seems to be the most contradictory figure in all Greek mythology. Although he is a Greek god, he suffers an incurable wound. Moreover, his nature combines the animal and the Apollonian, for despite his horse"s body, mark of the fecund and destructive creatures of nature that centaurs are known to be, he instructs heroes in medicine and music [my italics]. (pp. 98-100)
There is one final moment of synchronicity to this story. I related the connections between the supervision session, the reading of Kearney"s book and the myth of Chiron to Carolyn Kenny at the Nordic Music Therapy Conference in Bergen last year. She mentioned that she had recently had dinner with him and that he was a very good friend. Carolyn was also very supportive of my wish to document stories for Voices. So I would very much welcome discussion of how Chiron and the notion of the wounded healer relates to our own personal stories. I would also like to invite colleagues from around the world to put forward names of people who they would like to interview as part of this on-going series.
Leslie, Bunt & Hoskyns, Sarah(Ed.)(2002). The Handbook of Music Therapy. Routledge.
Pavlicevic, Mercédès (1997). Music Therapy in Context. London: Jessica Kinglsey Publishers.
Kearney, Michael (1959). Asklepios: Archetypal Image of the Physician"s Existence. Bolligen Series LXV 3. New York: Pantheon
Kearney, Michael (1996). Mortally Wounded - Stories of Soul Pain, Death and Healing. Marino Books
Kearney, Michael (2000). A Place of Healing: Working with Suffering in Living and Dying. Oxford
Bunt, Leslie (2004). Telling our Stories. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2004-telling-our-stories