Academic journal article The New Zealand Journal of Music Therapy

Music Therapy in the Global Age: Three Keys to Successful Culturally Centred Practice

Academic journal article The New Zealand Journal of Music Therapy

Music Therapy in the Global Age: Three Keys to Successful Culturally Centred Practice

Article excerpt


I would like to thank Sarah Hoskyns, Daphne Rickson, and the committee of the New Zealand School of Music's music therapy conference for inviting me to speak at the 201 3 conference and granting me permission to visit such a beautiful and unique country. In the spirit of cultural disclosure (Hoskyns, 2007), I would also like to acknowledge my own ancestors from India, as well as offer my continued respect and gratitude to the ancestors of Aotearoa, including the Maori,2 Pakeha,3 and the many other peoples and cultures living there. I was especially grateful to contribute to the theme of Linking Cultures, a topic I am passionate about and have dedicated my life to teaching and studying.

This article will begin with a brief overview of the field of music therapy in relation to the conference theme of Linking Cultures, include relevant literature from interdisciplinary fields, and focus on what I have found to be three key concepts in developing a successful culturally centred practice. In honour of self-reflexivity and transparency, I will also be sharing many of my own personal narratives in this article, several of which are taken from auto-ethnographic reflections on my ethnic identity during my own PhD research. In addition, I draw upon fifteen years of clinical work with children and adults, research from my culturally centred dissertation (which I will describe later), and a lifetime of travel and exploration of my own identity. My intent is to offer new perspectives, challenge existing beliefs around culture and ethnicity, stimulate discussion and inquiry, and hopefully inspire the reader with memorable stories.


In this article, I use the term culture to refer to shared values, patterns of meaning making, customs, behaviours and norms of a specific group of people (Stige, 2002). I consider ethnicity to be a separate but related term, acknowledging multiple definitions of ethnicity as a common, genetic, ancestral heritage, a shared belief in a common myth of origin (Karlson, 2004), or referring to a sense of belonging (Maira, 1 998). However, given the current climate of globalisation (which I will elaborate on later in this paper), ultimately, I view both culture and ethnicity as fluid, self-defined and collectively constructed rather than fixed or concrete (Kenny & Stige, 2002).

In my early training in the United States during the nineties, I remember feeling disheartened when my professors told me that there was not enough time to cover cultural issues in class. Although there is still a need for continued cultural awareness and education, the music therapy profession has made many strides in this regard over the last decade. I am especially grateful to Michele Forinash and Carolyn Kenny for their unconditional support and encouragement of my culturally centred research, and for the many scholars, therapists, students and professors leading the way toward a culturally centred future. Nordoff-Robbins Creative Music Therapy and Fielen Bonny's Guided Imagery and Music are now being offered on five continents. Culture is now a part of professional and advanced competencies in music therapy in the United States ("AMTA Advanced Competencies," 201 5). In the last two decades, the online journal Voices, started by Carolyn Kenny and Brynjulf Stige (2001), has opened up an electric dialogue of international scholarship, exchange and communication. The community music therapy movement is quickly becoming a central tenet of our field, inspiring interdisciplinary dialogue with other social sciences. The field of music therapy is vastly different than when I first entered and full of cultural promise.

The question is no longer whether music therapists should be culturally inclusive, but how music therapists become culturally centred. Although there is a growing body of literature, without a manual or guidebook, how do we create a culturally centred practice that welcomes everyone, that brings culture from the margins to the center? …

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