Monday, August 26, 2013

Mutually empowering conditions - is that what music therapists offer?

I was lucky enough to be invited to present a keynote paper at the European Music Therapy Congress in Oslo this year.  It was a huge honour and I took the opportunity to think very carefully about what I have learned about music therapy as a result of the various research projects I have read and conducted, as well as my experiences in working as a music therapist, and the theoretical frameworks that have influenced the ways I understand these things.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to condense my thinking into a one-hour presentation, but luckily, a few hours on the slopes of the beautiful Mt Hutt in the South Island of New Zealand helped me to align with my intentions and a structure emerged that allowed my story to unfold in a short time.

The key message I tried to impart was that music therapists create ‘mutually empowering conditions’ when they engage participants from a person-centered (Rogerian Humanistic) orientation.  More than building positive relationships with people, music therapists have the possibility to impact the environment around players by changing the ways that they are seen and understood in that context.  Whereas traditional music therapy practice emphasized the ‘sacred space’ around the therapeutic encounter and sought private and confidential experiences (in line with psychodynamic thinking), contemporary practice actively seeks engagement with the people and systems that surround individuals.  This might begin with private ‘musicking’ experiences, but can often grow beyond the walls of the therapy room for broader impact, as community music therapy theorists such as Brynjulf Stige, Gary Ansdell and Mercedes Pavlicevic have advocated.

The idea of mutuality has also become increasingly important to me under the influence of Randi Rolvsjord’s writings about resource oriented music therapy as well as the learnings from the Common Factors meta-analyses in psychotherapy (particularly Scott Miller who presented a fascinating workshop in Melbourne some years ago).  I think Randi has been able to name a particular quality that I always admire when I read about the work of therapists who move me – Irvin Yalom for example, or Andy Malekoff, or Reed Larson.  It goes further than having unconditional positive regard for the people we work with and allows space for the contribution that we make as therapists. I think that therapy is a mutual process that requires everyone to engage and commit, or it just doesn’t help that much.  For me, it’s the opposite of the teachings from Neurologic Music Therapy school, where the emphasis is on what the music therapist does to help, rather than the people themselves being the ones who work hard to achieve that change.  That said, I do think the notion of ‘empowering conditions’ can still encompass NMT, just not so much emphasis on the mutual.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about what empowerment is, and have come to a personal conclusion that being empowered means making good choices.  We often talk about offering opportunities for choice and control in music therapy, and I think that what we are referring to here is a part of creating mutually empowering conditions.  One of the stimulating PhD scholars in our group, Lucy Bolger, has been stretching herself to try and work out what we mean when we invoke a concept like empowerment.  As a result, her descriptions of collaborative processes truly capture the ways that music therapists who listen carefully to what players want can create conditions that people choose to ‘buy in’ to and therefore make an active contribution towards their own positive growth.  An important part of this is not taking all the responsibility for making things ‘sound’ or look good and successful.  A wonderful woman called Paula D’Arcy also captures this in a lecture with Richard Rohr that speaks to empowerment – she describes how we cannot and should not ‘save’ people, but should instead have faith that our destinies are mutually dependent and that opportunities to realize what we all need will arise.  To take that spiritual learning into a therapeutic context means that we cannot and should not ‘help’ people, but rather we should create conditions that encourage people to reach towards what they need.  This is similar to the ecologically informed definition of resilience that Michael Ungar and Bruce Perry offer, where it is partially the individual’s willingness to take steps towards coping, but also the availability of a context that supports those steps and provides something to step towards.

Anyway, the keynote went for an hour, and obviously there is decades of thinking behind it, but I did want to share some of the ideas with you all.  What do you think?  Mutually empowering conditions.  It’s an interesting idea, right?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Thinking about servant leadership

As a young professional, I was always slightly annoyed by the fact that a person’s age was closely related to the agreed perception about their capacity to lead.  It seemed to me that merely getting old opened the door to opportunities to be heard.  As a young woman who was constantly filled with new ideas and creative projects, I was frustrated by being constantly contained and restrained.  It is a marker of my youth that I was always racing to get through it, so I could reach the point where I was able to enact my ideas.  You could infer that I was lacking a little in the ‘presence’ department with this focus on future rather than in the moment.  Yes indeed. 

But here I am.  I turned 41 this week and I have fulfilled the assumptions of the hierarchy about the need for a link between age and leadership.  I seem to have run into it, just by being around long enough and being willing. As a result, the questions that have been distracting me since I turned 40 have been to do with leadership.  I have been studying the idea in different ways – participating in a Women in Leadership forum with colleagues from across the university, reading endless books, analyzing examples of leadership offered by friends and world leaders.  And of course, I have been talking about it incessantly with colleagues, students, family and friends. I notice that I have also been speaking to this topic in my previous blogs where I have discussed power and love, the power inherent in the use of the word ‘client’, and not least, changing the world.

What surprises me most about the experience of combining ageing and leadership is the lack of desire I have for it.  Even as I was questioning the validity of the relationship between age and power, I knew that I didn’t aspire to have power over others.  I wanted to be in relationship with power so that my ideas would have the possibility of being explored.  I wanted to be able to go to leadership and suggest things and have them heard, if not always accepted.  Over time, I came to identify as being a 2IC (second in charge), initially in small projects, and later in bigger systems.

Although my journey seems like a natural progression in retrospect, when leadership was finally thrust upon me from outside it took all my strength not to run away.  This was as true in my experience of parenting (which I see as a form of leadership) as it was professionally.  Despite my belief that I have an important contribution to make, I have had to come to terms with taking responsibility alongside that.  I had to stop speeding in my car when there was a baby in the backseat, and I have had to become more carefully attuned to the system that I work in and alert to the need to stand in my power for the benefit of others, even more so than for representing my own ideas.  I had no idea it would be like this when I was observing the phenomenon from my youthful perspective.

In all of my grappling to come to terms with this, the concept of servant leadership has had the greatest appeal for me.  This notion has been introduced in the contemporary literature by Robert Greenleaf, and I remember how my whole body resonated with it as I read about it in Joseph Jaworski’s writings, not least because he describes coming from a place of youthful self-absorption and then recognizing how important it was to fulfill on his commitment to others.  And then this morning I finished reading Paul Johnson’s book, “Jesus: A biography from a believer”. 

The form of leadership that Jesus embodied was truly the most inspirational, and even if you don’t choose to believe in any greater field of life than your own self, as Paul Johnson says, there is no doubt that as an individual his life was striking.  Jesus anticipated many of the issues that we continue to struggle with today and offered a way of being that was true leadership.  He never abused his power.  He always listened. He took time out to be alone and be nourished by his connection with a greater force.  He always recognized the importance of the ‘little people’ of his time even though the social conditions gave absolutely no power to them – women would be drowned in the river if they tried to leave their husbands, but their husbands could divorce them if the dinner was over-cooked!  He advocated for mercy and grace, rather than judgment. He enjoyed the company of others and recognized that all great things come to us through our relationships.  The list goes on, but what is striking is that the way of being that Jesus embodied would still be considered as great leadership to this day, and we still need it – though the historical descriptions in the text did remind me that we have come a long way.

It was truly inspiring to read a historical account of the life of a leader and to be reminded of how important it is to aspire to be as good as we can be.  As Greenleaf says, “the servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.” ( I’ve seen many of you enact this kind of behavior and been the grateful recipient of it on many occasions.  Whatever our motivations, and no matter what direction we turn as we endeavor to live this way (management, parenting, musicking …), the concept of leading through living our life as best we can has enormous appeal to me.  I still have plenty of work to do in making it so, of course.  But I feel happy to be one who is striving, falling over, getting back up, and striving again.  And there is enormous joy to be gained in studying those who have been truly magnificent. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Can I change the world? No, but we can do it together!

I had to change the name of my Blogspot.  Although I am passionate about my career as a music therapist, I am also passionate about my kids, my friends, and the world at large.  It was too hard to separate them out.  So now I am just meandering about anything, including music therapy.

As the title suggests, I want to contribute to change happening in our world, and soon.  And I finally worked out how to do it.  It's about having little conversations, insightful dialogues that get underneath assumptions about 'that's just the way things are' and start asking about how 'we want things to be'.

I was inspired to do this when challenged by the question - if not you, who?  If I don't do something, then who is going to?  Gina?  Bob?  Catrin?  Hussain?  Giulia?  Amira?  Ngon?  Well yes, maybe they will.  But not by themselves.  We all have to do it.  If not you, then who?  Who is going to make the changes that you know need to happen?  It's very dis-empowered to assume there is nothing you can do.

There has never been a time like this before.  The world grows more amazing every day in nearly every way.  And yet we seem to think that we should maintain the same old attitudes towards things???  That doesn't make sense does it?  Don't we need to evolve our attitudes to keep up with teh changes, or better still, drive them.

I think we can do little things to start.  So I was talking with my son today about using 'and' instead of 'but'.  We had been to the water park all day and it was great.  Naturally we began to compare it to other water parks we've been too, most notably, the one in Bali 6 months ago which was more than great.  It was AMAZING!

To begin, my sweet son was trying not to be critical of the little Victorian version, so he said it was just as good.  I challenged him to be more discriminating about it, since he is a highly intelligent young man and of course he knows that 17 wild rides (in Bali) is a lot more than 2 (ok, there was also some good mini-golf, archery, a little go-karting track - I mean, it really was pretty good).  So he tried again "The Victorian water park is really quite good, but, the one in Bali was heaps better.'  I congratulated him, and my daughter joined in as we enthusiastically recounted our favourite rides and moments from the day.

Then I took it one step further.  "You know Liam, why don't we try saying this one was good AND the one in Bali was even better."  Bless him.  He took me seriously and considered it.  "But Mum, it just doesn't sound right if you say it that way."  I agreed with him about the sound of it and went on to explain how we need to give up 'either/or' dichotomies of dualistic thinking (inspired by Fr. Richard Rohr) and that sometimes we need to change the way we use language because words create reality and can reinforce dogmas we don't agree with (inspired by Philosophy in general, I suppose particularly Habermas or Freire, as beautifully explained by Daphne Rickson).  Actually, I kept it simpler than that, he's only 8 after all, and the two of them have been known to start laughing at me if I get too full of big words.  But you get the point.  It is possible to perceive many different ways of seeing things and valuing things, and using language that reflects only two possibilities 'either / or', 'right / wrong' suggests otherwise.  So we can change our language to reflect our beliefs better.

So, I didn't really win them over to my argument this afternoon, but it's more about what I do than what I say anyway.  I'm trying to live it.  I'm trying to change the world. I'm trying to create a culture that reflects my dreams about a world that is run through mutually empowered and collaborative relationships so that we all have enough love, food, hygiene, education.  You probably agree right?  Well if you're not going to help me co-create this world, then who?  Will you?  Please?  Let's take little steps together to begin.