It stays with me, this question, rather like the ‘music-centred vs. psychodynamic’ polarisation, I find it strangely alluring. And looking back at that Twitter exchange, I’m unsatisfied with the question, but equally unsatisfied with my ‘smart’ answer. It sort of sounded good to me, but it doesn’t really help, because really I’m copping out, not explaining what I mean by ‘a music therapist’. Can it be both? Is it useful to decide?
For me it actually makes more sense to decide that it’s neither, on reflection. Because the problem is in the separation of these two ideas. This is what leads to music therapists worrying about talking in therapy, or imaginative play, because ‘we’re not trained for it’. We don’t know what to say, because nobody’s told us. This suggests that we do know what to play, whereas the state of not knowing is actually the key to an improvisational stance. I always come back to improvisation. Deciding whether we are ‘musicians doing therapy’ or ‘therapists using music’ implies a predetermined position, whereas I would never go into a session with an idea that I’m doing one of these two things.
Another thing, which might be important, or might be a by-the-way. The Twitter question sidesteps this, but Bruscia’s constructions present something interesting. If we might have to choose between ‘music as therapy’, or ‘music in therapy’, could it also be meaningful the other way around? What about ‘therapy as music’ or ‘therapy in music’. I find both of these concepts appealing, and a little mysterious. Now we have four ideas, instead of two.
We might look at this simply and consider that ‘therapy as music’ is what some psychoanalysts might do, who think about verbal exchanges from a musical perspective. That in itself could be worthwhile. Conversely, ‘therapy in music’ might be an aspect of ‘music as therapy’, the musical details which act as the mechanism for change. However, both structures seem capable of conveying more. They seem to suggest that therapy can be revealed by and contained by music, that a musical process and a therapeutic process might be part of the same experience, that there needn’t be a distinction between the two. Talking, movement, breathing, phrase, rhythm, touch, facial expression, and the intricate harmonic, melodic and rhythmic structures to which we sometimes attach the label ‘music’ might all be part of the same fundamental process, where people meet each other in moment-to-moment expression and interaction.
This also gets us away from that other misleading idea, that there might be something inherently 'therapeutic' about music, and points towards something else, that there might be something musical about therapy, especially (but not exclusively) music therapy.