Becoming "Unknowing" and "Inexpert"

Exploring the Impact of Language on Perception and Power in Music Therapy with Kirsty


  • Stella Hadjineophytou Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy, UK



music therapy, language, power dynamics, perception, disability models, case study


This article explores how the language of disability affects music therapists’ perceptions of the people they work with. A review of the literature examines how music therapy discourse and practice has been influenced by models of disability, specifically in the use of person-first and identity-first language. This is summarised by considering the power of language to affect the unconscious perceptions, choices, and actions of music therapists, leading to collusion between music therapists and inherently ableist social structures. The second half of this article presents the author’s introspective journey of consciously changing language, shifting perceptions, and subverting power imbalances in music therapy sessions with Kirsty, a young woman with autism attending sessions for her mental health. The case study incorporates Kirsty’s own written reflections to demonstrate the potential for collaboration and learning as part of this journey. The article concludes that music therapists might seek opportunities to become “unknowing” and “inexpert” in relation to the people they work with, in a bid to create holistic learning spaces that manifest and embody empowering language. The language of this article reflects the author’s preference for identity-first language. Person-first language is used in reference to Kirsty, at her request. 

Author Biography

Stella Hadjineophytou, Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy, UK

Born in London, UK, Stella trained as a music therapist with Nordoff Robbins, completing the Master of Music Therapy (Nordoff Robbins): Music, Health, Society in July 2021. Since then, Stella has been working with Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy charity in the southwest of Scotland delivering music therapy in recovery settings, care homes, and a range of educational institutions. As a person-centred practitioner, Stella iscommitted to promoting music as a fundamental human experience and a celebration of people, cultures, and communities. Stella is an editorial board member of the open access, peer-reviewed journal “Approaches: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Music Therapy.”

Photo of author Stella Hadjineophytou


Additional Files



How to Cite

Hadjineophytou, S. (2022). Becoming "Unknowing" and "Inexpert": Exploring the Impact of Language on Perception and Power in Music Therapy with Kirsty. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 22(3).