Whether or not we're aware of it, we're always telling stories. Stories help us describe (among other things) what we do, who we are, what we believe, how we've come to be, who we've come to be. And stories connect (and sometimes disconnect) us to/from ourselves, to/from our history, our families, our friends, our clients, our communities, our cultures.
For this moment, let's focus on the stories we tell ourselves. Let's consider the stories we choose and use to help us form a professional identity.
The way I understand it, our identity as music therapists is a compilation of the many stories we have about ourselves: as musicians, as people, as therapists, as family members, as community members, as service users, as learners.
In the process we consider our beliefs about music, about therapy, how we define music therapy, what we understand about health/illness, how music fits into health/illness, about our clients, our biases, what it means to help someone else, what is/isn't helpful, what is meaningful, what we embrace, what we avoid.
And our stories evolve even further as we give thought to how we choose to present our professional selves/stories to our clients, to our places of employment, to supervisors, to potential users of our services, to curious people, to lawmakers, to our larger communities.
All of these elements start with the stories we tell ourselves.
To that end, I'd like to share a list of questions I put together a few years ago for a presentation I did for a self-care series at the Kardon Institute for the Arts. My hope is the questions will help you become more aware of your own stories, how you decide which stories you'd like to share, how you choose to share them, and with whom.
What does it mean to be a music therapist?
- Who am I, or who do I think I need to be as a music therapist? How have I constructed my music therapy identity?
- Do I think there's a "right" way or a "wrong" way to tell my stories as a music therapist?
- What does it mean about me if I present myself in the "wrong" way?
- How much does my history/personality/temperament influence who I am as a music therapist?
- How comfortable am I when I feel I have to defend my role as a music therapist? In sessions? At work? In team meetings? What if someone doesn't like my story?
- How comfortable am I with regard to my skills as a musician, my skills as a therapist? And does that level of comfort (of lack thereof) have an impact on my identity as a music therapist? In what way(s), if at all, does this change my story?
- In what ways do my clients’ needs and expectations of me shape who I am as a music therapist? How do we weave our stories together?
- What do I believe makes someone a “good” music therapist?
- How do my race, culture, gender, sexuality, abilities/disabilities inform who I am as a music therapist?
- How do my beliefs and/or prejudices with regard to race, culture, gender, sexuality, abilities/disabilities impact my work?
- How do I feel/respond when someone outside of my field defines my profession or makes assumptions about music therapy? What happens when someone else tells my story? What if our stories conflict?
- How has my identity as a music therapist changed and evolved as I’ve moved through my 20, 30s, 40s, 50s, etc.? What are the ways in which my story has changed as I've grown through significant life changes (marriage, birth, loss, death, serious illness, natural/human made disasters, etc.)?
- If I am a music therapist practicing in a culture that is not my culture of origin, how has this affected my identity as a professional?
- How committed am I to a specific identity or role (or story) I play as a music therapist? Am I comfortable expanding my identity/role? Is it okay to change the story? Under what circumstances?
- How much of and which aspects of our clients' stories are okay for me to hear? And which aspects frighten me or make me uncomfortable?
- What roles do I unconsciously assign to my clients?
- How do my beliefs about what constitutes music therapy affect the stories I tell about being a music therapist?
(Copyright 2010 Roia Rafieyan)
Introduction: Advocacy --> Recognition --> Access