Construction of Normalcy and Diversity in Music Therapy Theory and Practice

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This paper will explore the potential harmony and dissonance in the music therapy discipline about the conceptualisation and communication of the dichotomies of ability and disability. As is recognised widely in critical disability studies, social construction of disability suggests that interactions, language and attitudes have significant impact on lived experience of disability (Rapley, 2010; Bolt, 2016). It is proposed that music therapy contributes to both neurodiversity and deficiency-based narratives in the construction of disability, through contrasting contributions in practice and in theory. Music therapy practice is widely recognised to be inclusive, affirmative and nurturing; celebrating non-normative ways of being and supporting clients to express their authentic self (Bunt and Stige, 2014). Conversely, as an allied health profession, music therapy engages with medical diagnostic criteria and often medical referrals, contexts and perceptions (Wigram, 2006; Aigen, 2015). The language of therapist and client has been discussed in talking therapies as generating a hierarchy of knowledge and experience (Rogers, 1980; cited in Mearns, Thorne and McLeod, 2013), and this hierarchy may be perpetuated in the transfer of this vocabulary to music therapy, despite the aforementioned potential harmony of partnership working in practice. Many theorists have explored the junctures between music therapy and other disciplines, including: music psychology (Cross, 2014; Ansdell, 2014); music education (Ockelford, 2008; Mitchell, 2016); music sociology (Procter, 2011; DeNora, 2015) and psychotherapy (Bruscia, 1998; Mössler, 2011). Each of these disciplines have their own conception and interpretation of disability, articulated in the professional language they engage with. It is proposed that the translation of affirmative, non-verbal practice into clinical, verbal narrative, as well as the related professions with which music therapy shares vocabulary and professional recognition, can blur the constructs of normalcy and diversity in the discipline (Ansdell, 2001; Gross, 2018; Pickard, In Press).

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Mitchell, E. (2016), ‘Therapeutic Music Education: An Emerging Model Linking Philosophies and Experiences of Music Education with Music Therapy’, Canadian Journal of Music Therapy, 22(1), p. 19 – 41

Pickard, B. (In Press), ‘Valuing Neurodiversity: A Humanistic, Non-Normative Model of Music Therapy Using Rogers’ Person-centred Approach with Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Conditions’, In Dunn, H., Coombes, E., Maclean, E., Mottram, H. and Nugent, J. (Eds), A Spectrum of Approaches: Music Therapy and Autism Across the Life Span, London: Jessica Kingsley

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Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 11 Sept 2018
EventDisability Studies Conference - University of Lancaster, Lancaster, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Sept 201813 Sept 2018


ConferenceDisability Studies Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • social construction of disability
  • language
  • music therapy
  • disability
  • neurodiversity


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