Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Therapy

Empowerment: An Intrinsic Process and Consequence of Music Therapy Practice

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Music Therapy

Empowerment: An Intrinsic Process and Consequence of Music Therapy Practice

Article excerpt


In this article empowerment is explored with reference to music therapy practice. The idea that empowerment is intrinsic to and a consequence of music therapy practice is suggested. Exploration of literature and clinical vignettes highlights the ways in which registered music therapists (RMTs) use methods that are empowering, and provide insight into the ways in which RMTs can conceptualise their practice as empowerment. Through the analysis of this material, action dimensions that form part of our practice, that are empowering, and that may lead to empowerment are highlighted. The vignettes and clinical references contained in this article are derived from numerous fields including paediatrics, special education, disability and palliative care. The ideas presented in this article are related to, all fields and frameworks of music therapy practice.


Empowerment has consistently been described as a process, or mechanism, that results in people, organisations and communities gaining control over their own lives or situations (Brown, 1991; Grace, 1991; Rappaport, 1984; Shields, 1991; Vogt & Murrell, 1990). This may take the form of a process achieved through action (Grace, 1991; Kieffer, 1984) or a process that entails the restoration of power and choice so that people may act, or cognitively and emotionally respond, in ways that are authentic or true to themselves (Brown, 1991). Empowerment may therefore not always result in action; it may result in a changing of emotional response to a situation; a cognitive restructuring; a shift in how one appraises an event or interaction; and or a change in the perception of one's opportunities for choice and control.

For some, empowerment will lead to a perceived sense of control while for others, it may lead to actual control resulting in practical power that affects one's life (Rappaport, 1984). This actual or perceived sense of control can be realised in many areas including political, economic, interpersonal, psychological and spiritual domains. Shields (1991) maintained that when empowerment occurs one will move from a state of powerlessness to one of motivation. Empowerment may also result in the acquisition of practical skills and the reconstruction and reorientation of deeply engrained systems of social relations (Keiffer, 1984). Change that results from the empowerment process may therefore be viewed as a spectrum that ranges from minute or discreet, to pervasive and significant. The severity of change is defined by how the empowered person chooses to define it and therefore in ways that are authentic to him/herself The way an observer or therapist may define or describe the change could therefore differ from the description of the person who has experienced empowerment.

Similarly to Shields (1991), other authors maintain that empowerment arises from a sense of powerlessness (Brown, 1991; Kieffer, 1984). More specifically that it develops from an individual's perception that they are not able to determine outcomes in their life in the way they would like. This would suggest that this process, in part, occurs through a gaining of insight that is enabling. In this respect, empowerment could be conceptualised as a type of process whereby a client or therapist experiences resistance. Resistance may inhibit the person's ability to act in a way that is true to them. In this situation, empowerment does not necessarily have to begin from a sense of powerlessness, however as the process of empowerment occurs, the person may experience a sense of powerlessness before experiencing a sense of powerfulness. In this scenario the client may be able only to identify these feelings retrospectively.

Similarly a person involved in a music therapy program may not always begin from a point where they identify that they have limited insight into their responses, feelings or actions. It is only when the person embarks on the therapeutic process that they experience an increased sense of clarity or insight. …

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