Discovering emancipatory research

Last year (2013), when i was working on the bigger research that i worked upon, and was almost closing it, I encountered the perspective of emancipatory research. As it is, I had been very uneasy with the idea of survivor-research as a paradigm, because it necessarily means that one is a survivor. This linguistic framework itself is a problem as far as I am concerned- as though it is  the holocast that you are referring to, that you have survived. If I am not wrong, perhaps that was the genesis of the word too.

For me researching in an area whose contours and nuances you understand well, from multiple positions- from experiencing the suffering of the soul to reaching that objectivity of a researcher, that you can also examine your own story like an outsider (no matter how much courage it takes to write it down) takes a lot of heart. And of course I derived that heart from reading the writing of Carolyn Ellis, for nothing except the honesty with which she wrote, and that which I can never expect from the writing of a fellow Indian, because we do not share our personal stories in public- at least not to that extent. Her book, ReVision, became such a benchmark for my own writing that once I wrote my big research I had that as a model to go with. I wrote to her, and shared what I felt about her book, and would she be kind enough to look at my research and possibly write a foreword for it! She almost agreed, though I could not finish my own writing in time, to send for her comments (still doing it actually!)

Anyhow, coming back to the subject of emancipatory perspectives, the first thing that appealed to me about it was the linguistic appeal- as I was as it is somewhat uncomfortable with the ‘survivor’ tag. Then secondly I find it more empowering than feeling like a loser- the sense I get from the word ‘survivor’ (may be a whim, but certainly that is how I feel). Plus I also feel I am not a survivor to the extent that I have survived something- I have been able to reinterpret suffering in the context of psychosis- depression as well as seen the continuum of human emotions as they go from one extreme to another. This is an attitude of inquiry, not necessarily passive observation. I am not just letting the waters pass over me, I am letting myself be transformed from an observer to someone who is interacting with the material that the waves are bringing. And that of course started happening in the context of other people also, when I moved from my personal autoethnography to a more social version of it (my bigger research).

I was at the end of my research, when I encountered, thanks to the academia network the writing of Noah De Lissovoy, and others…had a little correspondence with him and he shared with me further ideas about emancipatory perspectives. My journal paper to the Canadian Journal of Music therapy had already been submitted and now I was reading about emancipatory perspectives!!! When I got a feedback from the reviewers, I actually brought in the perspectives! what a thing to do- I changed the conclusion, and I suddenly felt as though the chips had fallen in place.

Perhaps the most important thing about the emancipatory approach is that it does not consider the university as a privileged place for the construction of knowledge– and that is truly liberating. For someone like me, whose college education formally stopped with the onset of what was called psychosis, in 3rd year college (notwithstanding the later degrees I accumulated), to come to a point where my research could be contributing something to the overall construction of knowledge is a great leap for me personally. I do not feel anything except humbled by it, for the colossus of human suffering is so huge that if we can only offer our little stories as offerings of hope to other fellow human beings, in a bid that they can see their own sufferings with newer lenses, that is real emancipation for all of us. There is no point in doing autoethnography for me, except the desire to hold the hands of everyone who is touched by my voice- physically, musically and spiritually.

In fact this perhaps is the greatest victory of my research too- for most people who were research informants with me, at any stage, upon meeting me and seeing my various degrees of engagement, ‘accomplishment’ (as if there is anything) feel inspired- and THAT is the hope they all needed.Now most are better off than before, one even got married- after long discussions in which I may have also contributed. I think in general the work i am doing is quite satisfactory and of a nature that inspires others, who are in the throes of suffering.

Perhaps if I had been in another country, the whole society would have valued my knowledge- but India is a different sort of place. Though we call ourselves a great collective civilization, we are in fact very individualistic- for in the accomplishment of nobody we truly feel happy or as though they are good or worthy of encouragement or celebrations. Fools have other fools falling over them on every pretext and universities are full of jokes going on in the name of research. But I feel relieved that I have discovered the perspective of emancipatory research, for I no longer need to yoke of a university department to ratify my findings…the world will be my testimony. So what if an Indian university could not open its doors for me- many signs will come from around the world to say that my research is truly useful, and not just another jugaad.

Of course I cannot thank Prof Misra enough for always egging me on, even till date- even after becoming a vice chancellor- wanting me to write my bigger autoethnography. Am not sharing the contributions of Prof Dalal here, because it merits a longer writing. But I feel that more than writing my story, there is a need to help others reinvent their stories and accordingly, in addition to working in research, I am donning the new mantle of Recovery Consultant in mental illness. I have been there, and know what it takes- and nobody can challenge me on that- not even ‘professionals’, for their knowledge comes from a theoretical perspective alone and that too guided by criteria set in foreign countries, whereas my knowledge comes from experiential perspectives honed by theoretical engagements- and that is truly emancipation for me, from ignorance. My college had its motto as sa vidya ya vimuktayethat alone in knowledge which liberates. And I know when I go down in this life, I will go with the satisfaction, that whatever two penny bit I learned, I was true to it enough that it proved to be my liberation- from aeons of darkness that surrounded my soul. So now holding other hands is my destiny, also via music.

Last bit, so I recently wrote to Noah sharing with him how discovering emancipatory research, thanks to his paper, somewhere changed the course of my own thought, though sadly I could not write the bigger research within that framework. Just got a response from him saying-

Hi Prateeksha,

Thank you for your message. I am very glad to hear that my work has been useful to you. Congratulations on the publication of your article, which sounds great. Best wishes going forward.


Yes…going forward now.

Editor’s words- from the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

Since I just received a pdf of the full journal edition, I am very intrigued to see how the editor interprets the whole ideas presented in the journal, and how open they are to pushing the boundary of inquiry in truly democratic and open-minded ways, even if it challenges the views one has held for long. And that is precisely what is holding back our own native cultures which value and salute tradition so much, that anyone who seems to extend anything here is beaten into silence, submission and marginalization. 

These are her words and I copy them down for what is pertinent to the context of my writing in the journal edition. This post is about this only. 

Editorial / Éditorial

Jennifer J. Nicol, PhD, MTA, RDPsych

University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, CANADA


Are you ready for some provocative reading? Hopefully yes, because

several papers in this issue of the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy aim to

disrupt conventional understandings and challenge implicit beliefs about

music therapy and music therapists, about research, or even about what

constitutes the human being. For example, is music therapy innocent? Sue

Baines reviews Susan Hadley’s new book, Experiencing Race as a Music

Therapist: Personal Narratives, which uses personal stories to suggest that

in fact privilege, marginalization, and the potential for harm permeate all

relationships. Laurel Young notes that Kenneth Aigen’s new book, The Study

of Music Therapy: Current Issues and Concepts, challenges readers to consider

the possibility of music therapy as a stand-alone field of specialization rather

than one that relies on other disciplines (psychology, medicine, education) to

explain and justify itself. What are the implications of this idea? How might

this perspective affect practitioners, educators, and researchers? Prateeksha

Sharma writes about using her own musical skills and culture to heal herself,

without the involvement of a music therapist. Her autoethnographic inquiry

introduces the typically unheard voice of subject-as-researcher, which by

extension raises questions about what is research? What is knowledge? And

who is qualified to contribute to these two enterprises?


Two other papers focus on individuals with dementia and raise

questions about the importance of cognition in terms of establishing

our humanness. Does a person with dementia have the capacity for selfactualization?

Is it possible for this person to have a spiritual life with spiritual

needs? Melissa Jessop provides a poetic rendering of a music therapy group

for adults with dementia by way of recasting music therapy clients as agents

and sentient beings with an alive and valuable life that exists right now in this

present moment, not just in the past. Kevin Kirkland, Mary Catherine Fortuna,

Elizabeth Kelson, and Alison Phinney describe the use of a mapping system

implemented to make visible clients’ responses to spiritual experiences

along with qualitative techniques that all highlight the importance of personcentered

care for people with dementia. Both papers represent an alternate

conceptualization of group music therapy work for adults with dementia.


The flip side of writing research

Today I had an unexpected experience, in fact perhaps the sort that thrilled me. There are two things I must add as background here- one is that I am trying out a new service on google called Hubspot or something like that, which tracks your email, and tells you when someone opens the email sent by you. So in case you have sent the email to 20 people, it will tell you each time they open, though if they are part of a list their names may not show up.

Just the past week I had a somewhat unpleasant exchange in a little group that talks about mental health (not all in the group work in mental health directly) and there were those who raised doubts and called me self pitying and playing the fool, writing my story down as a research, where it did not merit the tag of research!  I was somewhat taken aback that such people whether they understand all sides of research or not, have the courage/audacity to confront you, without verifying details. Anyhow, many people wrote to me privately after that and expressed solidarity, which was a little relief.

As it is, writing about yourself via research is not the easiest and I’ve not yet forgotten how many tears I have shed every time I have written an autoethnography. Then to meet cynics who tell who that your work lacks merit or verifiability is just plain hurtful. Perhaps instead of taking it so personally I could have taken it in the spirit of criticism, but then what is the compensation? First of all your suffer for long years being ill and then you suffer because you have no way to get back into the mainstream of life, and then you suffer because though you offer your wisdom to the world, in ways that can transform the experience of others if they can take a leaf out of your’s, you face more criticism. Where are the people who will really assist those who come out of decades of illness and embrace them and let them just breathe and celebrate their success, for it is not only a personal thing, but something that carries the potential for the universal? Unfortunately those people do not seem to be sitting in India (barring some really senior academics in universities).

But the really interesting thing happened today, which I had really not even imagined could. I am subscribed to a list of research from the McGill University, department of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, from which I almost get weekly updates, of research happening around the world, in mental health. Between this and a few other sites that I am connected to, i am pretty much in the loop about the latest dialogues in mental health research in most disciplines- psychiatry, psychology, anthropology, sociology, linguistics and you name it. Many a time I have written to people directly on this list and asked them for their research papers since I have no access to any university serves, and the beauty is that EVERY SINGLE PERSON i have ever written to has always sent me back their articles. Oh course I can say the same for Professors-  Misra, and Ajit (Dalal) too, for they even gave their personal copies of many a book to me and Girishwarji sent many books to me online. But this is not about comparisons, and there is no scope like that here.

I wrote to Prof Lawrence Kirmayer who is the editor of an important journal apart from being Director of the program in the McGill University, Canada, Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry, and inquired whether my article of the CJMT could be shared there, and went for a walk with the dogs, and then to feed them, clean the house, do this that, cook, eat etc etc. When I got back to the computer there was a response from him, thanking me and asking me whether he ought to also include my email as part of it, and forward to his list of people. I affirmed that.

Within five minutes of me sending the response to him, I got a letter from the same list, for he had posted to his list, and this was one of those emails that I too get as part of being subscriber to that list. As I am writing this blog post, it is only an hour back and almost 120 people have opened the same email! This is called speed. Am not sure how many people in India did that ever…or even shared with one more person!! Then we lament that good research does not happen in India- what an irony! You do not facilitate sharing of ideas and exchange of views, provide access to those on the margins and then  you expect that great research should happen in India just because we were once such a knowledge oriented society. Indians need to get out of the Halo of the past, because right now we are not only mediocre but less than human mostly. I want to see one professor of psychiatry do this in India! Or any  professor who works in any discipline that can connect with the originality of this work- for it leads in many directions.

But the flip side I am talking about is- that perhaps those who need it most would still not get to read it- and that is my real loss, for they are the driving force that makes me write in the first place- and not university departments or the prospects of any career enhancements- for there are none coming my way in either domain.

Canadian Journal of Music Therapy- please download paper and connected (introductory) paper directly here

In case you are using this link, kindly look at the right hand of the main blog and you see a widget, from which you can directly download any of the papers I have shared there. This post is only meant to facilitate further dissemination of my research- no other reason.

Additionally I have shared an informal bit of writing which explores the reason why someone ought to write their story, post recovery or what it offers to others. How one story is a possibility for others, if its ideas are morphed to suit the situations of another life, is what this paper talks about.  I felt that my story is the narrative of a musician, so does it mean that non-musicians cannot utilize the benefits of music or its therapeutic potential. All these ideas are shared as part of the writing called Recovery Stories foreshadow other recoveries.

I just (1st august 2014) discovered another way to share research publicly. Here is the link to that. Am trying in my own limited ways to reach the this inquiry to more.

Music therapy for Recovery in serious mental illness

This is my recent publication in the Canadian Journal of Music Therapy. So this post is nothing but a sharing of that link and the rest is self evident. Oh yes, the acknowledgements are not proper in this version of the paper and they have to read as follows, which they do in the final version and in the hard copy which I will have in hand soon (am told it is in the mail). Here is the final acknowledgements-

 The author would like to thank professors Ajit Dalal and Girishwar Misra for their engaged critiquing. In making this publication more concise and thorough she would also like to express gratitude to the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and appreciation. The Editor of this journal also is thanked for her support, feedback and help with developing this manuscript. The author is grateful to Michel Satanove for help with preparing a final version of this paper.
And perhaps I cannot but share again that this article was so important for me that I even wrote an informal autoethnography about it, which had been shared right on this blog, several months ago. This article was really a torturous road!

Harnessing the bipolar mind

I have always wondered why so many people love the bipolar disorder tag so much that instead of making it work for them, they make it as a representation of who they are, in effect remaining dysfunctional and discordant for their whole lives.

Looking at the work done by Tom Wootton, and long before him upon encountering the work of Kay Jamison Redfield I had learnt that bipolar is not something that can keep you pinned forever and one can function reasonably well, even being in a disordered state. Of course not while one is psychotic. One of the reasons that I wanted to work in research in mental health and also look at my own recovery critically was to see if there was anything in the story that could be a hint or a direction for another to take.

Of course every story and situation is unique and unrepeatable, so when I read An Unquiet Mind (download from here for free) I was extremely troubled, for the situations and the sheer circumstances of her life were so different from my own that I felt that possibly only people like her can recover from serious disordered states, while the likes of me would perish to their extremely troubled innards. She is after all a professor of psychopharmacology, that too in John Hopkins. (Just on another note I must share another link by a therapist who offers an analysis of the same book). One thing is for sure, that reading both their experiences, and before that knowing about the famous bipolars in the arts, I was always comforted that may be I need to deal with my ‘condition’ more sanely and not commit suicide, for the impulse comes once too often.

Harnessing the bipolar mind is actually a misnomer, because every mind is bipolar. So the point is that we need to harness that mind whose fluctuations between good and bad are too extreme for even the person to handle. Is there anyone in the world who is NOT bipolar? So when our innately bipolar constitution becomes so charged and fragile that we can no longer manage our moods, actions and behaviour we end up being in a state of disorder. That is where the world around us steps in.

Anyhow, since I could not enter into a phd program, thanks to the inbuilt inflexibility of the Indian University system, and its infamous bureaucracy, I decided to write about my own recovery, slowly, in research articles or a full-scale auto-ethnography. After the first, I wrote the second and there is such a long winding road ahead, especially because from within my own I am trying to cull out substance that is universal and therefore offers itself to universal application, that it becomes very painful to keep getting back to your past. More so for me, because I stay by myself most of the time and this solitude, while looking at the past, which seems such a great mountain of lost opportunities- seems even more aggravating.

Anyhow, I think to write about how everyone can harness their innate bipolarity to create personal and common good is something I ought to seriously consider, and if possible write down ideas so that others can follow them, recreate new possibilities from them or expand the scope of them by merging with their own experiences. This is how we transform ourselves and the environment around us in a cyclical process.

Changing views about your own suffering

Changing the view you look at your own suffering

I am sharing this link, for it is my writing, on another platform, and the whole issue is about letting people understand their stories by dissecting them carefully. If one person who is drowning can save herself, so can another. But not if the one who is saved goes to save the one drowning- most resources have to come from within the one who is drowning and the one outside can always encourage, lend a helping hand or point out a dry patch of land on which to get a toe-hold.

Ultimately we have to be the creators of our own lives, not others. But yes, we can always learn and gain from the experience of others. If you want to dig your own well from the start, you do not know how many times you will hit rock bottom! Be wise, at least in deciding whose hand to hold, the ones who have no words but medicines, or who have been there, done that!