Some Reflections About Representativity

By writing these words, I intend to open a forum for dialogue and exchange about the new definition of Music Therapy introduced by the World Federation of Music Therapy, which is inadequate and not entirely appropriate from my point of view.

As I already stated in a previous column (Schapira Diego (2005) I am convinced that the individual and daily work of each music therapist anywhere in the world represents the work of the entire professional community. I confirm this every time I have the chance to speak to professionals from other disciplines (psychologists, occupational therapists, doctors, psychomotor skills specialists, etc.) that are in contact with a music therapist, or with someone that has known the work of a colleague. Each one of the music therapists carry out the changing in the vision of our profession in the social imaginary, according to the rigor and ethics that we apply to our professional activity.

But I am also sure that individual contribution is not enough for us, music therapists in the different countries where we work, to achieve a growing presence in the health system. Since our existence as an academic discipline, we have tried to obtain greater professional recognition. We work to have more and better jobs, more legal regulations that protect our work, a higher integration into existing health teams, both at the public and the private sectors. This task cannot be accomplished by music therapists individually. It is an attribute, and I dare say that it is also an obligation, of the intermediate institutions that nucleate us. I refer to universities, associations of Music Therapy, regional organizations (like the Latin American Music Therapy Committee or the European Music Therapy Confederation) and the World Federation of Music Therapy. These intermediate institutions are interlocutors of each one of us, representing the music therapist community, making contact with government authorities, generating meeting instances between us, so that knowledge is built as a result of exchange, being an authorized voice in front of other institutions. The voice of an intermediate institution, due to its collective character, should be more powerful than the voice of each one of its members or that one from a person that does not belong to it.

I made this introduction so that we can think about the potential importance of the words of an institution as the World Federation of Music Therapy. For example, when adopting a law regulating the professional exercise in Music Therapy, it is logically expected that a Health minister or officer, a deputy or a senator take into account the statements of the institution that represents music therapists worldwide. In fact, that is exactly what has happened in my country. If the officer failed to do it, it would be negligent. That is why an institution such as the World Federation of Music Therapy must be extremely careful when ruling on any subject. Much more, when dealing with the definition of Music Therapy.

I feel that I have the right to express this, because since I started studying at the university in 1981 (31 years ago), I also joined the Association of Music Therapists of Argentina, and I was its president later on. I have been part in an uninterrupted manner of several directive committees of Music Therapy associations in Argentina and Uruguay, and I also participated of the creation of the Latin American Committee of Music Therapy and the Latin American Commission on Music Therapy University Training. Besides, I had the honor of being elected twice for the WFMT Council; first, under the chairmanship of Cheryl Dileo (1993) and the then, under Tony Wigram’s (1996). Needless to say that I have been very lucky to have shared six years of hard, respectful and democratic work with colleagues in both councils, coordinating the Research and Ethics Commission.

During that period, Lia Rejane Barcellos, coordinating the Clinical Practice Commission, worked for three years with a team of music therapists from around the world and presented a definition of Music Therapy at the 1996 World Conference in Hamburg, Germany, that was approved as the official definition of the World Federation. An accurately developed definition, contemplating and containing all the different ways of conceiving and practicing our profession. Since then, at least in Latin America, it has been an utmost important reference for the work of music therapists, associations and universities.

However, and to my big surprise, the WFMT presented a brand new definition of Music Therapy in 2011. I sincerely thought that maybe they have taken the task to “shorten” the 1996 definition. I imagined that a group of semiologists have been directed to rewrite it, maintaining its essence. But what was published was a new definition, which was announced as the result of the work of a team of Anglophone colleagues, based on 16 Music Therapy definitions in English, and taking Wikipedia, the free Internet encyclopedia, as one of their main reference and information sources.

I do not have any doubt about the good intentions of neither the group of colleagues that performed this task, nor the Council that approved it. But, with all due respect, I have to say that I believe this new definition far from improving the prior one, and that it represents only a part of the universe of Music Therapy. In addition, and probably with a spirit of pluralism, the WFMT placed for some time on its web page translations of this new definition to several languages. Precisely, those that maybe non-Anglophone officers could take as an unavoidable reference. While I cannot judge most of these translations, since I do not know the languages, I can point out that the Spanish and Portuguese versions do not seem to have been done by a professional translator, much less later verified by a bilingual English-Spanish and English-Portuguese music therapist. They contained coarse syntactic and grammar errors that, besides departing from the meaning expressed in English, generated contempt in the reader. Why not strive in caring for the representativity that these words imply in countries where English is not spoken? Why not take the required time to carry out this vital task?

I also wonder: why take only definitions in English, to develop a text that requires consideration of the multicultural nature of those it pretends to represent? Assuming the responsibility of developing a definition demands to regard all those referred to in this work. It is the responsibility of the researcher and the theorist to be extremely thorough in the use of verbal language, in the choice of the words used to explain what defines us as professionals; more, when we go through the dimensions of ineffable in our daily lives. Much more when that written word determines the passage of a law, the creation of a new music therapy course or the possibility of a new job for a music therapist, anywhere in the world.

So, how is it possible to resort to Wikipedia for such a task, knowing that it is not a reliable source from the scientific point of view? Wikipedia is an excellent reference tool for basic knowledge, built on free inputs but, being a “free encyclopedia”, there are no demands about the academic level of those who load information. Everybody can write there, either the most demanding researcher, or that one that tries to contribute on a subject, with true intentions of spreading information, or even those with dark intentions that attempt to distort reality or generate confusion. That’s the worlds of Wikipedia, where there are no limits on the topics that may appear. We can find information about “the influence of Descartes in western thought” as of the “properties of potatoes”, “quantum physics”, a clown’s biography, features of a water park, or opinion about Music Therapy. Everything fits there. And, in addition, the information we find today may be different from the one we can read next week. Anybody adds information. Then, why give credit to this Internet site from a scientific perspective, and support it as a source of information? Why not try, if necessary and possible, to improve and deepen the excellent work presented in 1996?
My intention by expressing these ideas is to talk openly about this subject. I intend to exchange points of view, with theoretical foundations and that we work together towards the integration and growth of the music therapists’ community. We still have a lot to do.

How to cite this page

Scapira, Diego (2012). Some Reflections About Representativity. Voices Resources. Retrieved January 15, 2015, from

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