South Africa recently celebrated Youth Day on which we commemorate the 700 school children who lost their lives in 1976 protesting against the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction for half of their school curriculum and against the Apartheid Bantu education system in general. Black South Africans paid a very high price to be granted the recognition of equality.
Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) attempts to place ownership of companies in South Africa in black hands. The fact that such a strategy exists and is enforced implies that transfer of ownership will not happen, or will not happen as rapidly, without intentionality. All South African music therapists at present are white. This is problematic politically and from the perspective of practice. Transformation is indeed a process but in the same way that black economic empowerment advocates intentionality perhaps we should too. Is this merely for those in university departments? Or is the job of enabling and empowering non-white potential music therapists one that we should all take responsibility for? How can we all begin to act more intentionally and take hold of a vision of how we would like to see our profession in the future?
I have been attending a course on leadership that presents the concept as not being reserved for the elite, gifted and charismatic few but for anyone who seeks to empower and grow others. A search on the specific word "empowerment" in music therapy literature reveals articles that focus mainly on the empowerment and enablement of the client (Rolvsjord 2004; Procter 2001). In one such article, Procter (2001, p.5) uses a quote by Stewart in Morgan (1996),
Enablement is about helping the individual to achieve what is important to that person, and not necessarily about seeking normality or conformity. It is about helping people to respond to their circumstances; to assert their individuality and establish their goals. It is about establishing co-operative relationships. It is about removing barriers and creating opportunities which will help individuals to explore new areas, develop skills and gain mastery over their environment in keeping with their own aspirations.
In my opinion, this quote applies as much to enabling therapists and therapists-to-be as it does to enabling clients. Although the word empowerment does not seem to be used as frequently in relation to the therapist, many opportunities for empowerment clearly do exist (training courses, journals, professional interaction and so on). I have been challenged however, not merely to take for granted that tools are available to empower those who seek empowerment but to view myself as an "empowerer" and "enabler" to other therapists and therapists-to-be. In other words, I need to understand that I am required to lead.
I initially placed this article in a racial frame. I believe it applies much more generally though. A number of colleagues have recently mentioned to me that they feel out of their depth at times. Due to the fact that there are so few music therapists in the country (as is the case in many countries in the world), we do not work in institutions where there is a more senior music therapist to ask advice from or to observe. We initiate projects that have no precedent. We begin to lecture and supervise after recently graduating ourselves. We write editorial columns in journals without having the title "Prof" before our name.
One of my most vivid early childhood memories is of adorning myself with the adult clothes that were kept in a box in the corner of the classroom. Once the skirt, top and fake pearl necklace were in place it was time to select a pair of shoes. The higher the heels were the better. I would then wobble precariously around the room feeling most pleased with myself. The shoes were much too big for me but I knew that one day I would be a "grown-up" and my feet would fill the shoes.
Apart from a few exceptions, music therapists in South Africa are young and relatively inexperienced. Dare I generalize and say that we often seem to be required to walk in shoes that we have not quite grown into yet. During the leadership course mentioned earlier, I realized that although we wobble occasionally in our heels we are leading the way for our profession in this country. We are not leaders in some philosophical, metaphorical sense but in the very real situation of being required to empower and grow others - other therapists who follow (even closely) behind us and other therapists-to-be. In my opinion, this is not a task for the few in academia but for all of us in the profession.
We recently had a small symposium at the University of Pretoria where a number of music therapists presented their work to the current masters students. The first presenter discussed her music therapy work in a residential facility for adults and children with mental and physical disabilities. She discussed how she was navigating working with both patients and staff together to build bridges of understanding between them. Another presentation showed work in coloured communities in Cape Town. The music therapists discussed how and why they had set up an NGO (Non-Government Organization) and how they worked with the community as a whole. Listeners left having been empowered and having grown. I propose that the music therapists who presented at the symposium were therefore acting in their capacities as leaders.
A friend of mine is about to publish the first edition of her magazine called "Women inc." I participated in some market research for her consisting of questionnaires enquiring what "working women" look for in a magazine. The process slightly altered my sense of professional identity. I had considered my role with clients in the therapy room but had not paid much attention to my role as a professional working woman in my field - not necessarily leading only through growing the academic body of literature but leading through growing and empowering people.
I live in a country where past injustice needs to be intentionally addressed in the present to create the desired change in the future. In this article I attempted merely to provoke thought about the nature of such intent and the implications thereof for how we view ourselves and our many potential roles as music therapists.
Procter, Simon (2001). Empowering and Enabling: Improvisational Music Therapy in Non-Medical Mental Health Provision. Voices: A World forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 6, 2005, from http://www.voices.no/mainissues/Voices1(2)Procter.html.
Rolvsjord, Randi (2004). Therapy as Empowerment. Clinical and Political Implications of Empowerment Philosophy in Mental Health Practises of Music Therapy. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, Vol. 13, no 2, 99-111.
Dos Santos, Andeline (2005). Intentional Leadership: Growth, Empowerment and High-Heeled Shoes. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 16, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2005-intentional-leadership-growth-empowerment-and-high-heeled-shoes