Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Developing post-ableist music therapy: An autoethnography exploring the counterpoint of a therapist experiencing illness/disability

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posted on 2021-12-07, 16:23 authored by Shaw, Carolyn

This PhD examined a therapist’s experience of illness/disability to see if any new light could be shed on music therapy whilst also finding ways to navigate disability as a practitioner. There has not been adequate research attention given to the experiences of music therapists who have an illness/disability. The position is often negotiated in isolation with minimal tools and resources. An arts-based autoethnography was used to determine how the close examination of one’s personal experience with illness/disability can impact on practice, how the work can be negotiated, and to uncover any new practical or theoretical meanings. Furthermore, it looked to determine what arts-based autoethnography could offer one’s practice. A poststructural lens was used that drew on social constructionism, feminism, and the work of Michel Foucault. Data generated from a music therapist’s practice, experiences of illness/disability, literature, and professional documents were analysed using Foucault’s “critical ontology of ourselves” (Foucault, 1984b, p. 47).  Hidden processes of problematic ableism were found within the practice examined as well as in some educational and professional encounters. These regimes of ableism were supported by universalising and dichotomising discourses, namely humanism, western normativity, limited observable understandings of disability, and the enforcement of able/disabled divide through many binaries. The methodology provided the tools to reposition the practice to politicise disability and address ableism.  Addressing ableism was found to be more complex than simply incorporating disability issues into existing contemporary frameworks. The analysis led to the development of Post-Ableist Music Therapy (PAMT). PAMT extended the relational ethic beyond what was present in the prior practice by drawing on aspects of posthumanism, agonistic plurality, and increasing the visibility of disability studies and crip theory. Therefore, PAMT offers a different lens to the critical orientations’ apparatus: a social justice practice not based on empowerment and humanism but on agonism and posthumanism instead. As there is a lag in the theorisation of ableism, PAMT provides an alternative framework that can be applied to current approaches to increase our professional consciousness of ableism.  By repositioning the practice and exploring alternative subjectivities, the professional and personal narratives of a therapist experiencing illness/disability became more integrated, working with–not against–each other in a shared activism. The methodology fostered an increased ethical care of the self; offered tools that critiqued what we are; experimented with going beyond the limits imposed on us. The use of such tools could have wider application in the everyday practices of therapists. The findings have significant implications for practice and training, as the challenges people and societies face cannot be adequately dealt with without tools to explicitly uncover and address normalisation and ableism.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

Music Therapy

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


Hoskyns, Sarah; Cornforth, Sue