Academic journal article The New Zealand Journal of Music Therapy

What Factors Shape a Music Therapist? an Investigation of Music Therapists' Professional Identity over Time in New Zealand

Academic journal article The New Zealand Journal of Music Therapy

What Factors Shape a Music Therapist? an Investigation of Music Therapists' Professional Identity over Time in New Zealand

Article excerpt


"Being a music therapist is an in-depth, lifelong process, not begun or completed with a degree."(Hesser, 1988, p.67)

This paper outlines the findings of research investigating the factors that influence the professional identity of individual New Zealand music therapists over time and how these factors might have shaped the profession as a whole.

Professional identity is a term used to describe both the collective understanding of a profession held by its members and an individual's sense of self within the professional role (Feen-Calligan, 2012) and it is underpinned by the concepts of personal and social identity of the individual (Bruss & Kopala, 1 993; Friedman & Kaslow, 1 986; R0nnestad & Skovholt, 2003; Skovholt & R0nnestad, 1 992). It is therefore not a stable entity and is one of the multiple social identities an individual holds (Clarke, Hyde, & Drennan, 201 3; Hotho, 2008). Variation within countries in the development of the music therapy professional identity demonstrates that professional identity is interwoven with individual, group, and cultural dimensions that evolve over time. The findings of this investigation, situated in New Zealand, are therefore likely to be unique to this country.

Here in New Zealand, music therapy is a relatively new profession, and practitioners are developing work in a range of contexts which require diverse approaches. In 2003, the first New Zealand tertiary music therapy course was introduced at Massey University (now at the New Zealand School of Music, Victoria University of Wellington). At that point there were 14-1 6 qualified music therapists in New Zealand (Croxson, 2003). The Registrar of the NZ Music Therapy Registration Board confirmed that, in 201 6, this number has increased to 77 (P. Press, personal communication, June 6, 201 6). This growth in the number of practitioners suggests music therapy's presence and identity will be evolving.

Professional Identity

Professionals develop through identifying the distinctive characteristics of that particular profession (Bonny, 1997; Feen-Calligan, 2005). These characteristics may include the language used to establish meanings (Slay & Smith, 2010), the skills that form the profession's area of expertise, the profession's values, and the way the members of the professional group understand the world (Glen, 1999). Professional identity relates to seeing oneself as a member of a professional group (Cerulo, 1997; Crossley & Vivekananda-Schmidt, 2009) and the unique name that is associated with the profession (Giddens, 1979; Hotho, 2008). Group identity is present when members of the group go through "similar identification processes" (Mössler, 2011, p.1 58). Individuals use their personal attributes, beliefs, values, motives, and experiences to define themselves within a specific professional framework (Ibarra, 1999). Professional roles, and an individual's self-concept in those roles, therefore, develop over time and with experience, as individuals adapt to role demands (Feen-Calligan, 201 2).

Music Therapy and Professional Identity

O'Brien and Goldstein (1 985) believe three stages are essential in the development of the professional identity of the music therapist: early experience and education (both formal and informal); demonstration of professional skills; and consolidation and integration of music therapy experiences and concepts. However, they state that "the feeling that one is a music therapist at the core, must be maintained" (O'Brien & Goldstein, 1985, p.37).

Music therapy studies into specific aspects of a music therapists' professional life reflect that the individual music therapist does not exist in isolation from their life experiences, beliefs, and values. Rather, these combine to influence and shape their professional identities. Musical identity, for example, can play a large part in formulating, developing, and expressing individual identity (Aldridge, 1 996) and can develop and change over time both on an individual and group level (Macdonald, Hargreaves, & Miell, 2002). …

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