The companions of my research journey
A few days back I wrote the following, for a public forum. I write with the idea that since we acquire all our knowledge in a social domain, we can also take ideas from the lives of others. When I was seriously ill, I had no one whose story could inspire me to get well, or even think that wellness was a possibility. But encountering the writing of Kay Jamison Redfield changed that perception. But considering that she was a big professor and I was a very small fry put me in no small anguish. That is why to write about the ordinariness of living a humble life, full of suffering and no real accomplishments, I hope would offer some milestones to others. Of course music is a unique part of my life and work, especially its contribution to my wellness.
Anyhow, this is the piece that was meant to be shared on that site, and it sheds a little light on how to read the story of one person’s successful recovery from a potentially disabling condition and why it is NOT a person’s story alone, but a cultural success for all humans, for we can see how within the resources that we have we can also create new outcomes for our suffering. This is my hope too. So while this is another link to my main paper (directly download from here), the other article follows here-
Recovery Stories foreshadow other recoveries
(This little writing is a prelude to my longer publication, which I ought to have offered to everyone who read the main paper. However since I did not think of it earlier, it does not absolve me of the responsibility of doing so at a later date. By writing this piece I hope to simplify the reading of my publication and to invite many other dialogic and creative possibilities using the arts, or music for that matter, toward therapeutic outcomes)
I do NOT want this to be read as a personal victory, for in that case I need not document it, by going over the laborious task of research writing and publication, which took a year and a half to be finally seen by others! The reason for me to work in research like several others, post our recoveries, is that we wish to see the patterns of disabling conditions at hindsight, enriched by our lived perspectives. Research always begins with a subjective agenda, but also has its own criteria. We cannot be telling our stories just to seek attention toward ourselves, but definitely there is an element of attention seeking involved here- yet not toward the person but the question of the research.
The question that I wish to address via this writing is that Recovery is (often/always) possible in serious mental illness, and that this paper shares the process of one such- the evidence of such a recovery. This is also a little background of why I head an arts based non-profit, a research organization of recent origins, whose agenda is to create synergies in health and education via the arts, and to create possibilities where more of such recoveries happen via the interfaces that such an immersion can bring about.
Auto-ethnography is NOT self advocacy
I often use autoethnography as the method to write about myself and it is not to be confused with self-advocacy. The purpose of the two is quite different. While we work in research we sometimes work in situations where we do not have access to others or our stories are so unique that they, by themselves, carry enough seeds of ideas. This is more so in survivor- research (though my own preferred usage now is emancipatory research). The other situation in research is that once we get out of the tunnel ourselves we have seen the inner dimensions of it so well (which often I am afraid even the best professionals would have no access to, unless they are fearless like Stanislav Grof, who experimented with LSD, to understand various aspects of consciousness, the root of all that happens in psychosis or other serious troubles)
I vaguely try to distinguish between autoethnography (a/e)and self- advocacy thus:
- A/e is a legitimate qualitative research method, self advocacy is a PR tool.
- The purpose of a/e is documentation in a framework which can be used by researchers and lay people alike (if they want to read it), whereas the purpose of self-advocacy is to draw attention to the recovery of one person in the hope that they would inspire others.
- Purpose of a/e is to draw attention to the phenomenon, while in self advocacy the person is the phenomenon.
- A/e is never written for popularity but with a commitment that we offer our stories for the world, as a reflecting surface in which they can see their own stories, in particular those who face similar crises. Self advocacy is a way to draw attention toward oneself and sometimes to show the injustice one has faced. Likely every person in this unjust world faces a lot of injustice, as autoethnographers we just choose to respond to that injustice in a different manner-as compassionate warriors, not simply passionate ones.
- In doing a/e we go through a lot of heartburn for we have to write our stories ourselves and then bring in research evidence from various dimensions to show that they are valid, whereas in self advocacy mostly there is no writing involved of that academic nature. People have already bought your concept and you just have to go and talk about it- there is a market and there is a product. Who does not want to listen to the story of suffering of another and then pat their back? But how many have the courage to say, that listen, I am not suffering now, but I did in the past, so may be if we could just look at it together there could be something lying in my recovery that you can use.
Having said that, without wanting to be patronizing and self-righteous, with due respect for all those who work in self advocacy, I still want to say that we are all on the same side of the fence- teammates of the same team, though our methods differ, in accordance with our trainings, inclinations and abilities. It takes all sorts to wage a war, and people of varying abilities need to bring their abilities together to deal with the enemy that we all deal with- the enemy of human suffering. Let the generals come from all ranks, and those ranks not be determined by the dominant voices of a certain sort only.
There are of course scores of things that can be written here, also on the subject of why autoethnography and NOT autobiography. I will write about that separately on my blog that you can follow, if you like, here
Musical recovery of a musician is not the same as that of a non-musician
You will read ahead that I work in many aspects of music- including in research in areas of pedagogy on one side, therapy another and also want to see the role of music in its interaction with identity. Even some of my published research in music is within the folds of psychology among other disciplines. I am not a musician whose work is all focused on performance, though that is among the many things I do on rare occasions.
Music Education or Music therapy?
These are two close issues that need to be seen on a continuum. Music education involves an engagement with music directly, whereas music therapy is engagement with music mediated by another person, who is treated as the expert.
For a musician like me since engagement with music is at so many levels it is actually an occupational thing, not therapeutic- unless the musician herself is so incapacitated that there is no connection of that person to the outside world as a musician (which happened in my case), and the only connection you have with music is a means of venting out your emotional-spiritual chaos. But yes, it also provided me with a means to redefining my identity and not just view myself as ‘poor girl’. In later writing I hope to share the role of my dogs, who have been one of the key pillars and closest companions of my recovery, the role of my mother, and other members of my family, the homeopath and the chance encounter with him, via my sister and one or two close friends…and that is still not the end of the list. An 18 year long illness cannot be summarized in a few journal articles- it is slow, laborious and excruciating to visit it again and again, and I do not know when I would run out of steam.
In another paper of a bigger dimension (currently under review) in which I write about the overall work I do, in the creative dimensions, I have explored the role of music in a multimodal sort of a way toward my recovery, for the first time writing about my poetic side too, as well as weaving all these with what I do in research as well. On the one side I analyze about whether the work should be seen as serious creativity, on the other I contrast it with the death of another musician by suicide, to bring together evidence that music is not always therapeutic- even for musicians.
All my research is in fact an advocacy for music/art pedagogy, which in due course can have other outcomes too. If we see in the larger context it serves the purpose of my advocacy for art-education, for I believe that the arts ought to be a part of every child and adult’s life, not only in the process of education, but also as a means to expressing the emotional and spiritual fluctuations of being alive and resolving inner dilemmas in socially legitimate ways. I also believe this about other things, like connecting with nature, gardening, sports etc- but this is as far as what I can personally contribute via my (non-funded) research and its agenda.
How would music therapy work for the non musicians or those who are not interested in music at all?
I would like to treat these as two separate issues. I am not just referring to music (or a particular kind of music) but music as a form of art. So if some people do not respond to music, they may respond to other art forms. There ought not be to a forcible reduction of everyone to using music alone.
Everyone whether they know it or not, has a musical self, which is part of their larger personality. Many are aware of their musical abilities and inclinations but some are not. So we do not focus our energy on the method but the person and whatever they respond to, is what should be offered as their therapeutic medium. If we work in coercive ways, then we would force everyone in one way only and sadly this is what happens with modern medicine, but if medicine knew its limits or that it need not be hierarchical or dominant but collaborative, people would become the center of everyone’s work and I think that no problem would be above a solution then.
I have often worked with people who seem to have no music in them, which to my mind is unthinkable. But in saying this I show a bias within myself, for am I not then stereotyping them? I once worked with a group of school teachers who I could select out of 90, into three groups of ten each- I said I would only work with 30, as a pilot. There was a group that just did not respond to musical notes, and I brought them all quietly together, without telling them what the common ground for connecting them was.
Then I started working with them using rhythm, not melody! They were all so thrilled firstly that they had not been excluded for they all had a very poor self image viz a viz their musical abilities, and then they were more keen to prove themselves worthy! I accomplished many things I thought with this little exercise- building self esteem, letting people identify their musical abilities and not be dominated by the view that they were tone deaf (which in fact they were!) and create new possibilities even for them. If we can turn around teachers we can turn around most things in the world. This is my philosophy.
With this introduction I invite you to read this article , as an offering in creating new possibilities in health via the arts. I would be happy to answer any further questions via this blog so that more people can also read them.