During the past few years, when I send an original case study article to a refereed journal, I usually get comments concerning the first person writing style. The reviewers usually ask me to be more "objective", to write in a more "objective" manner and to bring more "scientific" sources of information. The main comment I get is that extensive use of first person references greatly reduces the professional tone routinely contained in juried journal.
It is interesting to note that even though we see more and more journal articles which written in this "unscholarly manner", journal editors and reviewers refuse to acknowledge that some things have changed in our professional writing. Personally, I have to admit that such comments about my writing style make me feel very frustrated. The issue of how to respond to such comments has become a real challenge for me. I therefore decided to devote my personal column to present my arguments concerning the following question: Why do I think that the use of first person is more appropriate in writing clinical case studies and not less scientific than the use of third person?
1. Writing in first person manner invites the reader into the room and makes him/her feel more engaged in the process.
In a case study the music therapist describes and analyzes a specific therapeutic process that equally involves three components: the client, the therapist and the music. When I write a case study, my purpose is to try to engage the reader as much as possible in the process. This is why I chose the first person writing style, meaning writing "I" or "me" instead of using third person writing style - "the therapist". In my opinion, the same rationale goes for naming the client (even if it is not his/her real name) instead of writing "the client". Using a third person writing style makes the client an anonymous figure and creates a distance between the reader and what he/she reads. My argument is that the use of first person makes the article more real and mirrors the atmosphere that I wish to establish in the therapy room - two human beings who share a journey together.
2. Choosing a writing style should reflect the writer's world-views, beliefs and values as a human being, therapist and writer.
I believe in using a personal voice instead of an impersonal one in both therapy and writing. Being the therapist, I want to be perceived by my clients as a human being whom they can trust. I believe that my client and I are human, imperfect and equal (as reflected in the humanistic and transpersonal psychological schools of thought). I don't believe in me being a faceless authority figure (as it is in the traditional psychoanalytic school). I believe that establishing an atmosphere of closeness with my clients is the only way to learn and grow. I also believe that I can learn from my clients as well as they can learn from me.
3. Case studies are often written and read as narratives.
The concept of narrative entered the field of psychology during the last decade and an emphasis was put on understanding the human being as a creator of stories, structuring his/her cognitive world as a system of stories and his/her own life story as a way to define him/herself or his/her identity (Bruner, 1986; Gergen, 2001). Narrative is a story or part of a story that is being told, written or imagined by one of the participants. Narrative also means reconstructing or building a story through particular lens, and in this way it becomes a basic shape of searching for meaning.
In therapy, the client tells his/her stories (verbally and artistically). It helps him/her to re-construct, better understand and find meaning in his/her life. Similarly, writing in a narrative style helps me better understand the client's experiences in both therapy and life. Writing a case study as narrative also helps me to create the story of a particular therapeutic process through my own particular lens, thus define and re-shape my professional identity. As mentioned before, during the last few years one can see more and more articles written in this style in the music therapy literature.
4. A clinical article that is written as a case study is close to the writing style used in qualitative research.
Qualitative research forms allow the writer to use the first person voice because the third person is not seen as inherently more scholarly. In an upcoming book entitled Music Therapy Research 2nd edition, edited by Barbara Wheeler, (in press), Ken Aigen wrote a chapter entitled: Writing the Qualitative Research Report. In this chapter he addresses this particular issue and writes the following:
The writing of qualitative research reports has had a profound impact on the nature of scholarly exchange as it challenges many of its traditional conventions. These traditional conventions, once seen as necessary components of scholarly writing, are now recognized as vehicles to reinforce the hegemony of particular world views, ideologies, and theoretical frameworks. All research reports utilize particular rhetorical and narrative devices to make their points. What differentiates the authors of qualitative research from quantitative research is not the use of such devices, but the acknowledgment that such devices are being used consciously and deliberately.
Paul Atkinson, (1990), a sociologist researcher, who already 15 years ago wrote about this subject is mentioned by Aigen (in press) who writes: "Paul Atkinson (1990) has noted that even the impersonal writing voice of the traditional experimental report in which the first person voice is completely absent is itself a rhetorical device. The impersonal voice of this writing suggests that the knowledge claims have greater authority because they are not the product of a fallible human being, an imperfect "I", but instead are the pronouncements of an impersonal, faceless authority."
I think that both Aigen and Atkinson serve my point in an accurate manner and no further explanations are needed.
In conclusion, it is surprising that so many of us - journal editors, reviewers, writers and readers fail to notice the change that has been taking place in scholarly writing. During the past few years conventions have significantly changed in scholarly publishing to where the first person voice is not in and of itself considered unscholarly. It is allowed when it is in line with the focus and purpose of the article (Atkinson, 1990). I consciously and deliberately use an extensive use of first person in my writing style. Writing a case study article in a third person in order to make it more "objective" will result in loosing its authentic voice.
I would be interested to know what others think about this subject.
 See Music Therapy - all volumes (1981-1996); Aigen's, Austin's and Soshensky's articles in Music Therapy Perspectives vol. 19; Wheeler's article in The Journal of Music Therapy 36(1); Amir's article in The Journal of Music Therapy 36(2), Amir's article in Music Therapy Perspectives 22(2), and others.
Aigen, Kenneth (in press). Writing the Qualitative Research Report. In Barbara Wheeler, (ed.) Music Therapy Research (2nd Edition). Philadelphia, PA: Barcelona Publishers.
Aigen, Kenneth (2001). Popular Music Styles in Nordoff-Robbins Clinical Improvisation. Music Therapy Perspectives, 19(1), 31-44.
Amir, Dorit (1999). Musical and verbal interventions in music therapy: a qualitative study. Journal of Music Therapy 36(2), 144-175.
Amir, Dorit (2004). Giving Trauma a Voice: The Role of Improvisational Music Therapy In Exposing, Dealing with and Healing a Traumatic Experience of Sexual Abuse. Music Therapy Perspectives, 22(2), 96-103.
Atkinson, Paul (1990). The Ethnographic Imagination. London: Routledge.
Austin, Diane, (2001). In Search of the Self: The Use of Vocal Holding Techniques with Adults Traumatized as Children. Music Therapy Perspectives, 19(1), 22-30.
Bruner, Jerome. (1986). Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Gergen, Mary (2001). Feminist Reconstructions in Psychology: Narrative, Gender & Performance. Thousand Oaks, London: Sage.
Shoshensky, Rick. (2001). Music Therapy and Addiction. Music Therapy Perspectives, 19(1), 45-52.
Wheeler, Barbara (1999). Experiencing Pleasure in Working with Severely Disabled Children. Journal of Music Therapy, 36(1), 56-80.
Amir, Dorit (2005). The Use of "First Person" Writing Style in Academic Writing: An Open Letter to Journal Editors, Reviewers and Readers. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy. Retrieved May 15, 2013, from http://testvoices.uib.no/?q=fortnightly-columns/2005-use-first-person-writing-style-academic-writing-open-letter-journal-editors