View of Feminist Music Therapists in North America: Their Lives and Their Practices

[Research]

Feminist Music Therapists in North America: Their Lives and Their Practices

By Sandra L. Curtis

Abstract

This survey study investigated the lives and practices of those in North America who self-identify as feminist music therapists. Earlier reports from this survey studied: 1) the experiences of music therapists, with a comparison of men, women, and their 1990 counterparts (Curtis, 2013d); 2) the experiences of music therapists who self-identify as community music therapists (Curtis, 2015); and 3) the experiences of music therapists in Canada as they compare with their U.S. counterparts (Curtis, in press, a). This current and final report explored the experiences of those in Canada and the United States who self-identify as feminist music therapists (50 from the 682 respondents). Areas of similarities and differences were noted between feminist music therapy respondents, Community Music Therapy respondents, and survey respondents as a whole. Similarities existed in terms of: age; gender (predominantly female) and ethnicity makeup (predominantly Caucasian); career satisfaction; and degree and nature of concerns in their lives. Differences existed in that: 1) greater numbers of feminist music therapy respondents worked in academic settings and had higher levels of education; 2) more feminist music therapists felt there was an impact of sex discrimination in peoples’ lives than did the community music therapists, or survey respondents as a whole (98%, 68.5%, and 67% respectively); 3) more feminist music therapy respondents held concerns about discrimination across many other intersections such as race/ethnicity and sexual orientation (98%, 74%, and 76% respectively); and 4) significantly more in Canada self-identified as feminist music therapists than did their U.S. counterparts. Thematic analysis of respondents’ thoughts on feminist music therapy identified the following themes: being a feminist, belief and orientation, and working for empowerment and equality. The potential contribution that feminist music therapy offers the music therapy profession as a whole was highlighted in terms of its understanding of the impact of multiple sources of marginalization and privilege. This potential contribution could be enhanced through future research into the profiles of feminist music therapists living in other parts of the world.

Keywords: feminist music therapists; profiles; professional identity; lives; practices; Canada & the United States of America; survey research



Introduction

The influence of feminist perspectives and feminist music therapy in the music therapy profession is small, but increasing, with writings appearing relatively recently from this international grassroots movement (Curtis, 2000 & 2013d; Hadley, 2006; Kim, 2013; Rolvsjord & Halstead, 2013). Baines (1992) presented a first precursor with her unpublished master’s thesis exploring a feminist framing of music therapy specifically related to music therapists’ ethical work. This was followed by the first publication on feminist music therapy – a 1997 doctoral dissertation outlining its theory in general and its application in particular with abused women (Curtis, 2000). Other writings followed shortly, including: an anthology of writings from diverse authors on feminist perspectives in music therapy across a broad spectrum of areas (Hadley, 2006); writings on its practice with abused women (Curtis, 2007, 2008, 2013c, & in press, c; Curtis & Harrison, 2006; Hahna, 2004; York & Curtis, 2015); writings on its contributions to the Bonny Method of Guided Imagery & Music (Hahna, 2004), to pedagogy (Hahna, 2010 & 2011; Hahna & Schwantes, 2011), and to anti-oppression and social justice work (Baines, 2012; Curtis, 2012; Hadley, 2013); and further writings in the music therapy and creative arts therapies disciplines (Curtis, 2013a; Edwards & Hadley, 2007; Hadley & Edwards, 2004; Kim, 2013; Rolvsjord & Halstead, 2013).

These publications reflect a strong interest and considerable productivity on the part of a small core of music therapists. They also reflect considerable diversity of thought and approach, which is not surprising given that feminist music therapy is informed by feminism, or more appropriately feminisms, with an equal diversity of meanings. Although diversity can represent a challenge for some, ultimately it is a positive phenomenon, enriching and representing an integral characteristic of feminist music therapy (Hadley, 2006 & 2008). As a result, this diversity must be kept in mind when looking to define and describe the practice.

In effect, there can be no single, homogenous definition of feminist music therapy as it is “informed by each individual therapist’s understanding of feminism and its meaning in the context of therapeutic practice” (York & Curtis, p. 382). Yet, there are commonalities that underlie a broader understanding of the approach by many.

Feminist music therapy represents an approach to intervention that is rooted in a feminist belief system with its sociopolitical understanding of men’s and women’s lives as they are constructed within a patriarchal culture. It is unique among music therapy approaches with this understanding and in its two-fold purpose – to accomplish personal transformation by individuals within their own lives and sociopolitical change within the community. (Curtis, 2007, p. 199)

It is a grassroots phenomenon encompassing commonalities and differences with an overarching practice which incorporates the principles of feminism within a music therapy context (Curtis, 2006; Hadley, 2006). This practice is informed by feminist theory and feminist critique while rooted in each practitioner’s own particularities. Some describe their practice as it intersects with other approaches. Kim (2013) outlines the intersection of feminist perspectives with a “culturally-informed music therapy” (p. 429) in her work. McFerran and O’Grady (2006) outline different intersections in a feminist community music therapy.

Within the overarching feminist practice, there is an understanding of not only the diversity of feminism, but also the diversity of women. The practice of feminist music therapy for some is informed explicitly by critical race theory. Kenny (2006) describes her approach as one rooted in the indigenous tradition of mother earth. Goldberg’s approach (2006) is informed by the Ancient Goddess tradition. Neither Kenny nor Goldberg found their experiences reflected in the traditional White feminist theories (Hadley, 2006). Lee (2006) draws on indigenous, Chinese, and western traditions for a feminist music therapy appropriate in Taiwan.

It is important to understand that feminist music therapy embraces an understanding of the impact of the intersection of gender with the full range of other possible sources of oppression and privilege –including not only ethnicity, but also age, ability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and indigenous heritage, etc. (Curtis, in press, c; Hadley, 2006). Merrill (2006) indicates that intersectionality is a fundamental part of her approach to feminist music therapy. In a special Gender issue of the Arts in Psychotherapy, Hadley (2013) identifies the impact of powerful intersecting narratives from “patriarchy, Eurocentricism, heterosexism, capitalism, psychiatry/psychology, and medical science” (p. 373). Their impact in the lives of client and therapist alike should not be overlooked, “As therapists, we are not above the fray of complex identity formation shaped by the dominating/ subjugating narratives” (p. 373).

Given the diversity of feminist music therapy practice and its clientele, it should not be surprising that its goals and techniques are equally diverse (Hadley, 2006). The goals evolve out of each practitioner’s particular approach as well as their particular client population. Many of the goals are not unique to feminist music therapy; rather it is the approach to achieve these goals which is unique. There are, however, for some practitioners a small number of signature goals unique to feminist music therapy: 1) increasing understanding of the sociopolitical underpinnings of the lives and experiences of men and women; 2) empowering women and others oppressed; 3) fostering recovery from the harms of oppression; and 4) bringing about personal and social change (Curtis, 2006; York & Curtis, 2015). These are accomplished through: 1) feminist analysis of gender, power, and culture; 2) valuing the experiences of those marginalized; and 3) social activism (Curtis, 2000 & in press, c). Techniques used in feminist music therapy include a wide variety of traditional music therapy experiences (Hadley, 2006). These techniques are not unique to feminist music therapy but are uniquely applied within a feminist music therapy framework, and can include: lyric analysis; songwriting and recording; singing; vocal and instrumental improvisation; performance; music combined with other creative arts; and music-centered relaxation (Amir, 2006; Bradt, 2006; Jones, 2006; Kim, 2006; Merrill, 2006; Rolvsjord & Halstead, 2013; York, 2006; York & Curtis, 2015).

To date the literature detailing the practice of feminist music therapy, with its goals and techniques, has primarily involved women clients. These clients have represented diverse client populations (Hadley, 2006). These have included: women living with chronic pain (Bradt, 2006), immigrant women (Kim, 2013), abused teenage girls (Purdon, 2006), women experiencing trauma (Amir, 2006); women in mental health (Rolvsjord & Halstead, 2013), and women in long-term care (Merrill, 2006). In particular, feminist music therapy is increasingly used effectively with survivors of violence – among whom women are disproportionately represented (York & Curtis, 2015). The practice of feminist music therapy, however, is not limited to women or to women survivors of violence; rather it is very appropriate for any individual, exploring experiences of any number of intersections of marginalization and privilege (Curtis, in press, b). While the focus until recently has been on women, it is important to remember that:

Even though men may benefit from male privilege, within this culture, the constraints of masculinity can be as powerful as those of femininity. Their impact in daily experience, in mental health, and in happiness should not be underestimated. (Curtis, in press, b)

It becomes clear that feminist music therapy can be very appropriate for both men and women, for people of all walks of life who are impacted by such intersections as gender, age, ability, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and indigenous heritage.

An examination of the literature of the recently-emerging practice of feminist music therapy has identified commonalities and differences in definitions and practices, along with its increasing importance internationally. Both current and potential contributions highlight its significance to the music therapy profession. An understanding of the profile of those who practice such a diverse approach is therefore warranted. While literature exists describing their practice, little exists concerning the practitioners themselves. One earlier survey of music therapists in the United States and Canada (Curtis, 2013d) did determine that 25% of women and 31% of men were familiar with feminist music therapy; this represents a small number, but significantly more than previously with 16% familiar in 1990 (p < .05). This survey also determined that 6% of women music therapists and 6% of men music therapists self-identified as feminist music therapists. Beyond this, little else is known about the individual feminist music therapists themselves.

This present study is designed to begin the process of closing this gap in the literature by examining the profile of North American feminist music therapists, in particular those in Canada and the United States. The choice was made to limit the focus of this study to these two countries because study of feminist music therapy practitioners can only be effectively accomplished in taking into consideration the particularities of sociocultural and geographic contexts. With an examination of feminist music therapists around the world beyond the scope of a single study, Canada and the United States were selected because of the author’s background and previous survey research (Curtis, 2013d). This choice is also appropriate given that Canadian and U.S. music therapists have been particularly active in the beginnings and the ongoing development of feminist music therapy (Baines, 1992 & 2012; Curtis, 2000; Hadley, 2006). As a result, the research question for this study is: What is the profile of feminist music therapists living in Canada and the United States?


Method

Participants

Participants consisted of those respondents who self-identified as feminist music therapists in a survey of American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) and Canadian Association for Music Therapy (CAMT) professional members situated in the United States or Canada. This survey produced 50 respondents who self-identify as feminist music therapists, 103 who self-identify as community music therapists, 682 respondents as a whole, and a 36% return rate.

Survey Questionnaire

This report presents results from one portion of a larger survey. While this report looked at those respondents who self-identify as feminists music therapists (FMT respondents), three earlier reports looked at: 1) the experiences of music therapists, with a comparison of men, women, and their 1990 counterparts (Curtis, 2013d); 2) the experiences of those who self-identify as community music therapists (Curtis, 2015); and 3) the experiences of music therapists in Canada in comparison with those in the U.S. (Curtis, in press, a). As a result, the survey questionnaire covered a broad scope of issues.

The survey questionnaire consisted of a preliminary section to secure informed consent followed by 30 items. Of those survey items, the focus of this report was on a select number, including: 1) those close-ended questions addressing demographics, career choice, theoretical orientation, Community Music Therapy (CoMT) and feminist music therapy familiarity, and concerns; and 2) those open-ended questions addressing career considerations, the perceived impact of discrimination, and self-identification as a feminist music therapist. The questionnaire was written in English, professionally translated into French, and pilot tested in both languages.

Procedures

In a summary of the procedures: research ethics approval was secured; the survey was posted online through Survey Monkey (2015); and a survey participation invitation with survey link was sent to professional members of the AMTA (via email from the researcher) and of the CAMT (via email from the CAMT). In using Survey Monkey’ Pro features, it was possible to ensure anonymous participation.

Data analysis was completed by two independent expert consultants, with a consultant statistician handling analyses of the survey’s pertinent close-ended items and a qualitative software consultant handling analyses of the survey’s pertinent open-ended item. Statistical analyses for this report included: 1) comparison of numbers of those self-identifying as feminist music therapists and those not; 2) U.S.-Canadian comparison of numbers of feminist music therapists; and 3) comparison of discrimination concerns on the part of survey respondents as a whole and those who self-identify as feminist music therapists. Thematic analysis of qualitative data for this report explored respondents’ reflections on feminist music therapy. The qualitative consultant made use of Nvivo 10 software (QRS International, 2012) to code the qualitative data in terms of the survey item’s themes, subthemes, and respondent demographics. The anonymous nature of the survey precluded member-checking.

In terms of item response rate: all 50 respondents replied to all questions with the exception of five; for those five questions, 49 responded to the questions on marital status, perceived impact of sex discrimination/ bias, perceived impact of other forms of discrimination, and career considerations, while 47 responded to the question on CoMT.


Results

Of the 682 survey respondents, 50 (7%) identified themselves as feminist music therapists (in response to the open-ended question, “Do you consider yourself to be a feminist music therapist? Why or why not?”). It should be noted that an earlier survey report (Curtis, 2013d), indicated that 37 (6%) self-identified as feminist music therapists (This was in response to the close-ended question requesting survey respondents to identify their theoretical orientation(s), any number from a list of 14 orientations, including feminist music therapy). New functionality in an upgraded version of Survey Monkey Pro (2015) made it possible for this current report to capture the numbers self-identifying as feminist music therapists in the open-ended question, thus including responses from 13 more than previously, for a total of 50 respondents. While respondents identified themselves as feminist music therapists in the open-ended question, not all selected that option when provided the list of 14 orientations in the close-ended question. The open-ended question permitted respondents to self-identify as feminist music therapists while including some caveats. The implications of this will be discussed further in the “Theoretical Orientations” section.

An important matter concerning the survey’s examination of respondents’ self-identification as feminist music therapists must be addressed prior to examining the results further. The survey provided no definitions of any of the theoretical orientations, including feminist music therapy, since the research focus was on how music therapists identified themselves in terms of approach. To provide any pre-set definitions would have defeated that purpose.

Demographic Information

The gender distribution of those self-identifying as feminist music therapists (84% women, 16% men) was not significantly different from that of the survey respondents as a whole (90% women, 10% men) or of those who self-identified as community music therapists (86% women, 14% men). Membership statistics from both the AMTA (2012) and the CAMT (2009) reflect similar proportions, with music therapy representing a female-dominated profession in the U.S. and Canada.

Previous survey reports (Curtis, 2013d & in press a) had identified a significant difference in nationality for FMT respondents (p < .05). Significantly more in Canada than the U.S. selected feminist music therapy as one of their theoretical orientations (10.8% and 5% respectively). It is interesting to note that this Canadian-U.S. difference reflects a similar pattern to that seen in CoMT (Curtis, 2015) where significantly more in Canada self-identified as community music therapists than did those in the U.S. (55.4% and 15.3% respectively, p < .05). However, dramatically more in Canada self-identified as community music therapists than as feminist music therapists (55.4% and 10.8% respectively).

There was no significant difference in the age breakdown of FMT respondents in comparison with either CoMT respondents or survey respondents as a whole. The age breakdown of the FMT respondents consisted of: 22% between 20 and 30, 24% between 31 and 40, 12% between 41 and 50, 32% between 51 and 60, 6% between 61 and 70, and 4% over 70 years of age (See Figure 1.).

Figure 1. Percentage of FMT respondents by age bracket.
Figure 1. Percentage of FMT respondents by age bracket.

Similarly, all three groups (FMT respondents, CoMT respondents, and survey respondents as a whole) reflected considerable homogeneity in terms of ethnicity. This homogeneity is typical of the music therapy profession as a whole in the United States and Canada (AMTA, 2012; CAMT, 2009). Of the FMT respondents, 92% were Caucasian, 4% were Asian American/Canadian, 2% were African American/Canadian/Black, 2% were multiracial, and 0% was Hispanic, Native American/First Nations, Inuit, or Pacific Islander (See Figure 2).

Figure 2. Percentage of FMT respondents by ethnicity.
Figure 2. Percentage of FMT respondents by ethnicity.

Education & Work Information

In contrast, noticeable differences existed between survey respondents in terms of their educational levels, with greater numbers of FMT respondents having higher levels of education (See Figure 3). Among the FMT respondents, 50% held a Bachelor’s degree (in comparison with 52.4% of CoMT respondents and 62.6% of all respondents), 72% a Master’s degree (in comparison with 49.5% of CoMT respondents and 47.6% of all respondents), and 26% a doctoral degree (in comparison with 14.6% of CoMT respondents and 10% of all respondents.

Figure 3. Percentage of respondents holding educational degrees (any field), with respondents identifying all degrees held.
Figure 3. Percentage of respondents holding educational degrees (any field), with respondents identifying all degrees held.

In terms of work situations, the majority of all survey respondents were working in clinical practice. For FMT respondents, 54% were in clinical practice, with a smaller proportion working in academic settings (30%), and a still smaller proportion indicating some other situation entirely (14%). This was in some contrast with CoMT respondents (67.3%, 14.9%, and 16.8% respectively) and with survey respondents as a whole (73%, 13.8%, and 10.4% respectively (see Figure 4).

 Figure 4. Percentage of survey respondents by work setting.
Figure 4. Percentage of survey respondents by work setting.

Concerns

Respondents were asked to rank their personal, family, and work concerns on a 5-point Likert scale, with 1 indicating Not a Problem, and 5 indicating a Very Serious Problem. Overall concerns were very similar for all survey respondents with none ranked higher than a 3. For FMT respondents, CoMT respondents, and all respondents, the greatest concerns were: lack of leisure time, lack of time/money for continuing education, inadequate salary, and burden of job and family responsibilities (See Figure 5).

Figure 5. Ranked concerns of FMT respondents on a 5-point Likert scale, with 1 indicating Not A Problem and 5 indicating A Very Serious Problem.
Figure 5. Ranked concerns of FMT respondents on a 5-point Likert scale, with 1 indicating Not A Problem and 5 indicating A Very Serious Problem.

Perceived Impact of Discrimination

In terms of their perception of the impact of discrimination in their personal lives (i.e., sex bias/discrimination, sexual harassment, and homophobia/heterosexism, ranked on a 5-point Likert Scale), survey respondents were very similar, ranking their concerns relatively low (FMT respondents: 1.65 for sex bias/discrimination, 1.19 for sexual harassment, and 1.93 for homophobia/heterosexism; CoMT respondents: 1.35, 1.12, and 1.35 respectively). There was a dramatic difference in terms of respondents’ perception of the impact of sex bias/discrimination in people’s lives in general. In response to an open-ended question, 98% of FMT respondents indicated that there was sex discrimination. This was in stark contrast to CoMT respondents (68.5%) and to that of survey respondents as a whole (66% of women respondents and 68% of men respondents).

Similarly, in response to the open-ended question about the impact of other forms of discrimination in people’s lives in general (i.e., racism, homophobia/heterosexism), 98% of the FMT respondents indicated that there was discrimination. While not representing as large a difference, this was still noticeably different than the perception of other forms of discrimination on the part of CoMT respondents (74%) and on the part of all survey respondents (75% of women respondents and 77% of men respondents).

FMT respondents clearly held greater concerns about discrimination and bias across many intersections such as sex, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. In responding to these two open-ended questions, some answers were brief, while many others were quite lengthy. These included thoughts on general experiences as well as experiences, both overt and covert, for the music therapy field, its professionals, and its clients.

FMT respondents answering the question, “Do you feel sex-bias or discrimination has an impact in general in our lives?”, commented:

Gender stereotyping, homophobia, and sex-based discrimination continue today. In many ways, it is unspoken, but it still controls the ways in which women and men interact.
I feel that we need to be aware of the issue to advocate when it is a problem
Absolutely. Women still get paid less and get less recognition. Look at music therapy- who does the actual work most the time? Women. Yet we still have "fathers" of MT- Very few women are recognized as the leaders in the profession.
I work with women having a history of trauma...this is definitely felt in their worlds. My workplace is all female, feminist-based, so the sex-bias is minimized in my world.

FMT respondents answering the question, “Do you feel other forms of discrimination (e.g., racism, homophobia/heterosexism, etc.) have an impact in general in our lives?”, commented:

Yes. I feel homophobia and heterosexism are some of the biggest issues in our society today.
There is rampant discrimination, but I think that because it is not politically correct to discriminate, the underlying feelings about distrust of the "other" are exploding in dangerous ways.

Another respondent noted:

Yes - as much as I wish that we were past all that, it’s far from reality. I actually feel that racial tension and bias has gotten worse in recent years overall. And there is still plenty of homophobia around as well. Even living in a "liberal" area of the country and in a major Northeastern city, I feel like I witness various forms of discrimination and tension often. (Curtis, 2013d, p. 391)

Theoretical Orientations

Three survey items (one close-ended and two open-ended) were used to examine respondents’ theoretical orientations. The close-ended item contained a list of 14 theoretical orientations: behavioral/applied behavioral analysis, biomedical, Bonny method of GIM, cognitive, cognitive-behavioral, Community Music Therapy, eclectic, feminist, humanist, neurologic music therapy, Nordoff-Robbins, Orff-Schulwerk, psychodynamic, and other. Respondents could choose as many orientations as applied. The two open-ended questions included: 1) Do you consider yourself to be a feminist music therapist? Why or why not?; and 2) Do you consider yourself to be a community music therapist? Why or why not?

In addition to feminist music therapy, the 50 FMT respondents self-identified with a number of different theoretical orientations (See Figure 6). In this manner, FMT respondents were very similar to CoMT respondents who also self-identified with a number of different theoretical orientations, as did survey respondents as a whole.

It is striking that while 100% of these 50 FMT respondents self-identified as feminist music therapists in response to the open-ended question, only 48% selected feminist music therapy in response to the close-ended question with its list of 14 theoretical orientations. A similar situation was found in an earlier survey report on community music therapists (Curtis, 2015). In both situations, the open-ended question allowed respondents to self-identify while including some caveats or qualifiers; as a result, it appears that more felt comfortable responding in the positive to the open-ended question than to the close-ended question. These caveats and qualifiers will be explored further in the section which follows entitled Feminist Music Therapy Emerged Themes from Qualitative Data.

Of the different theoretical orientations that FMT respondents selected other than feminist music therapy, the most commonly identified were: humanist (64%), eclectic (56%), psychodynamic (52%), and cognitive behavioral (34%). The most commonly selected for CoMT respondents were: humanist (50.5%), eclectic (47.6%), cognitive behavioral (42.7), and behavioral/applied behavioral analysis (33%).

Figure 6. Percentage of theoretical orientation selections, with respondents able to select any number.
Figure 6. Percentage of theoretical orientation selections, with respondents able to select any number.

Feminist Music Therapy Emerged Themes from Qualitative Data

All 50 FMT respondents took the opportunity to reply to the survey’s open-ended question on feminist music therapy (i.e., “Do you consider yourself to be a feminist music therapist. Why or why not?"). An earlier survey report (Curtis, 2013d), briefly looked at the response to this question on the part of all 682 survey respondents. This section provides a more detailed look exclusively at the responses of the 50 FMT respondents. Among these, thematic analysis of qualitative data using Nvivo software identified a number of themes: being a feminist, belief and orientation, and supporting empowerment and equality. As noted earlier, this question elicited some responses that were in the affirmative but with some caveats, including: agreement with the concept but not in current practice, not with a particular population, or not with the particular terminology.

Yes, but I don't use the word feminist only because I tend to stress culture although it is within a wider socio-cultural lens (which includes sexual orientation, class, ethnicity, race, as well as gender). To me, feminist music therapy is about collaborative, non-hierarchical therapy, where I am not the expert but I am co-creating the goals and interventions with my clients. This is what I prefer. However, there are some cultures where this simply won't work. They are patriarchal cultures and the clients feel more secure with someone who does identify as an expert, for instance. So then it's my job to work within their frame and try to incorporate some feminist principles where it is possible.
In my personal beliefs and orientation, yes. This informs my approach to supervision more than the specific practice of my students.
My work currently allows me a wide variety of music experiences which allows feminist music therapy at times, so yes when applicable I could be considered a feminist music therapist.
Being a feminist.

A number of FMT respondents discussed their feminist music therapy identification in terms of its evolution out of their identification as a feminist. This is in keeping with the literature which indicated a common feminist belief system underpinning the diverse practice of feminist music therapy (Hadley, 2006).

Yes. Because I am a feminist so I know it informs my work.
Yes, because I believe in the issues of feminism and the need for equal rights for females.
Yes, because I'm a feminist and it is a part of all I do.
I consider myself a feminist, and go about my work with this lens.
Belief & orientation.

FMT respondents elaborated further on the impact of their beliefs and orientation on their self-identification as feminist music therapists. These were noted as integral to their practice:

I am very dedicated to feminist principles and feminist therapy. I actively incorporate them in both my music therapy practice and in teaching.
[My] practice integrates values of feminism (e.g., recognition of multiple cultural perspectives, impact of discriminatory practices on individuals).
Supporting empowerment and equality.

FMT respondents discussed the need for and importance of supporting empowerment and equality for their clients. This often included the intersection of not only gender, but also other sources of oppression around ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status etc. As such, this was in keeping with this study’s earlier findings about FMT respondents’ common perception of a strong impact of all forms of discrimination in people’s lives in general.

I believe that the feminist therapy theory is about empowering women to understand systemic oppression and how women may be impacted by institutional gender discrimination - for me, music therapy is about unlocking one's potential through the use of music and being able to cope in a variety of settings and becoming aware of some of the obstacles in one’s life that may interfere with the healing process.
I strive to promote empowerment in my practice.
I work with as flattened a hierarchy as possible within the clinical relationship, empowering the clients to bring their voice into the session.
Yes [I consider myself to be a feminist music therapist] because I am aware of the gender dynamics between myself and others, and because my beliefs include equity between people of both genders and all orientations.
I value each person and their stories for their unique situation. I want to empower my clients to achieve their best self and acknowledge the oppression that has existed for some in our culture.
Other miscellaneous themes.

Individual themes also arose in some of the responses – in keeping with the diversity of feminist music therapy. These included such topics as: their personal development as feminist music therapists; readings in feminist music therapy; and integration into work situations:

I read the book about feminist music therapy. I think that I try to empower myself to lead in a strong manner and encourage both females and males to be aware of their choice of roles in a group or choices in life based on gender roles.
I have a personal feminist philosophy that I apply in all of my work. My feminist beliefs, that all people should be treated equally, are always present in my work. I provide services to a feminist organization as well.
Yes [I consider myself to be a feminist music therapists], but in context of my focus on power dynamics as it relates to the larger organizational and ecological systems.

In reviewing the comments of the FMT respondents, instances of both commonalities and diversity were reflected. Again, this is keeping with the literature’s finding on the diverse nature of the emergent practice of feminist music therapy.

Career Choice & Role Models

In commenting on music therapy as a career choice, FMT respondents overwhelmingly (90%) indicated “interest” as their primary motivator. Other motivating factors included a role model (24%) and full-time career opportunities (16%). FMT respondents were very similar to CoMT respondents and to all survey respondents in their career choice influences (See Figure 7). FMT respondents (30%) also indicated a number of “other” factors. These were diverse, including such issues as: passion for music, passion for working with people, and ability to combine psychology and music.

I liked the idea of helping others while doing what I love: music
Living a life of joy. Doing a job that is rewarding for me and others. Doing something I love.

Figure 7. Career choice considerations of FMT respondents, with respondents able to select multiple choices.
Figure 7. Career choice considerations of FMT respondents, with respondents able to select multiple choices.

In further elaborating on the role models in their lives, FMT respondents identified a large and diverse list of individuals from family members, well-known musicians and celebrities to music therapists, teachers, and music therapy faculty.

My grandmother, Joni Mitchell, Mother Teresa, my sister, Ellen Degeneres, Oprah.
Helen Bonny, Chris Williamson, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Judy Collins
Music Therapy Educators/Scholars, Music Therapy trainers, Artists

Career Recommendations

FMT respondents were generally in agreement concerning music therapy as a career: 63% recommended music therapy as a career, 37% recommended it with a caveat, and one did not respond. In this regard, FMT respondents were fairly similar to survey respondents as a whole of whom 65% whole heartedly recommended music therapy as a career while 30% recommended it with a caveat. Comments from those FMT respondents recommending it as a career without caveat included:
ABSOLUTELY!
Absolutely and without doubt, it is an excellent way for a musician to "do one's life" as a musician and as a servant of society. For me music therapy has served as the perfect blend for my social work background and work as a singer-songwriter. It's easy for me to recruit people for our profession because I believe so deeply in its relevance to helping improve the quality of life for the individual and our society as a whole. It is the most perfect blend of music as art and music as science in the service of others. Consequently, I often refer to it as the 'peace corps' of all music professions, though I know that title is trademarked!

The caveats provided by some FMT respondents included such issues as: recommendation if an individual had the skills, the passion, or an understanding of the financial challenges.

Yes, if they had good musical and relational skills.
Yes, as long as they are made aware that finding full-time jobs can be tough. Supporting yourself and a family on a music therapist's salary can be tough.

Still other FMT respondents made mention of particular approaches:

Study feminist music therapy--it is a growing field in music therapy that has much potential to serve our clients and to assist us, as music therapists, in breaking down the barrier and stereotypes that prevent all people from living free lives in equality.

Additional Comments

While FMT respondents took the opportunity to write lengthy and articulate responses to this survey’s open-ended questions, a number also took further opportunity to reply to the final survey item asking for any other comments. One respondent indicated:

Each of us brings our own set of values and ideals to the profession. Our stories play a key role in the continuing educational and developmental pursuits in our lives. It is a very important thing to become consciously aware of how our biographies have impacted our lives so that we can better serve those whom we serve, those with whom we move and have our continued opportunities of becoming the best we can be.

Another noted that:

This survey really seems to acknowledge many aspects of human life that have been omitted from the music therapy discussion for too long. (Curtis, 2013d, p. 392)

Discussion

This survey study examined the profile of those in Canada and the United States who self-identify as feminist music therapists. Accounting for 7% of those surveyed, the 50 FMT respondents reflected instances of diversity and commonality among themselves and in comparison with CoMT respondents and with survey respondents as a whole.

Two study limitations should be noted. In the first place, the total number of FMT respondents was small (50 FMT respondents from the total 682 respondents). In the second place, a discrepancy existed between the number of respondents who self-identified as feminist music therapists in response to the quantitative survey question with a provided list of theoretical orientations (n = 37) and the number who self-identified as feminist music therapists in response to the open-ended survey question, “Do you consider yourself to be a feminist music therapist?” (n = 50). This was understood in part through the thematic analysis of the open-ended responses which indicated that a number of the respondents included a caveat with their self-identification as feminist music therapists.

In exploring this survey’s findings, some of the most striking included similarities in FMT and CoMT respondents’ profiles and in their adherence to a combination of theoretical orientations. As well, strong similarities were identified in FMT respondents’ thoughts on FMT itself, career satisfaction, and career choice. Equally striking were the differences identified in terms of: numbers in the U.S. and Canada; work settings; educational level; and perception of discrimination.

In terms of their profiles, the FMT respondents were remarkably similar to the CoMT respondents and survey respondents as a whole in terms of their age, gender, and ethnicity. As with the other respondents and the music therapy profession as a whole, FMT respondents represented a very homogenous group which was predominantly female (84%) and predominantly Caucasian (92%). This similar gender distribution appears contrary to a myth held by some that only women can be feminists.

It was interesting to note that the 50 FMT respondents self-identified with a number of different theoretical orientations in addition to feminist music therapy. In this way, FMT respondents were similar to CoMT respondents and to survey respondents as a whole. The most commonly identified of the other orientations for FMT respondents were: humanist, eclectic, psychodynamic, and cognitive behavioral.

Concerning the FMT respondents’ thoughts on feminist music therapy itself, there were strong threads of commonalities. These were found in the emerged themes from the analysis of qualitative data including: being a feminist, belief and orientation, and supporting empowerment and equality. As well, FMT respondents were satisfied with their career choice overall, with 63% recommending it as a career for others and with 37% recommending it with some caveats. In discussing the influences in their own choice for music therapy as a career, FMT respondents overwhelming identified “interest” as their primary motivator; in this way, they were similar to CoMT respondents and survey respondents as a whole.

One of the striking differences found was that significantly more in Canada than in the U.S. (10.8% and 5% respectively from the 682 survey respondents) self-identify as feminist music therapists (p < .05). A similar Canadian-U.S. difference had been noted among CoMT respondents (Curtis, 2015), with significantly more in Canada self-identifying as community music therapists than the U.S. (55.4% and 15.3% respectively, p < .05).

Differences were also identified in terms of work setting and educational levels. Greater numbers of FMT respondents worked in academic settings and had higher levels of education than CoMT respondents or survey respondents as a whole. Further research could prove valuable in determining what, if any, relationship exists between FMT identification and academic setting or educational level.

A particularly noteworthy difference was found in the FMT respondents’ take on various forms of discrimination. Not unexpected given the basic concepts of feminist music therapy, markedly more FMT respondents felt there was an impact of sex bias/discrimination in peoples’ lives than did either the CoMT respondents or survey respondents as a whole (98%, 68.5%, and 67% respectively). More FMT respondents (98%) additionally held concerns about discrimination and bias across many other intersections such as ethnicity, and sexual orientation (98%, 74%, and 76% of all respectively).

This North American survey report lays the groundwork for future research examining the lives and practices of feminist music therapists elsewhere in the world. While the practice of feminist music therapy is currently small, it is a rich one which holds potential to contribute to the music therapy profession as a whole. Its contributions could be particularly important in its understandings of the impact of the intersection of multiple sources of marginalization and privilege in the lives of music therapy clients and therapists alike; these include such sources as gender, ethnicity, age, ability, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, and indigenous heritage, etc. The importance of work in this area for music therapists is increasingly being recognized (Whitehead-Pleaux & Tan, in press). Much may be accomplished through future research into the experiences of feminist music therapists, their thoughts on their practice, and how it plays out in different sociocultural and geographic contexts.


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