What are the factors that have influenced individual music therapists' professional identity and have those factors impacted on their practice and the field as a whole in New Zealand?
The purpose of this research project is to investigate the factors that influence individual music therapists’ professional identities in New Zealand over time and whether these factors impacted on their practice and the field as a whole in New Zealand. Professional identity is a multi-dimensional process that develops over time and is underpinned by the concepts of personal and social identity. For music therapists, this process is also interconnected with the ongoing shaping of the boundaries of the music therapy profession. A qualitative case study methodology was employed. Nine music therapists who had over five year’s clinical experience in New Zealand were engaged in open-ended interviews and a process of thematic analysis was used to generate the findings from verbatim transcriptions of each interview. An overarching category and three core themes relating to personal, profession-specific individual and collective features of identity have emerged as influences on the individual music therapists’ professional identities. The overarching category is to be validated by others. The three core themes are to i) feel a sense of professional competence, ii) experience direct or indirect reciprocal communication with other music therapists, and iii) develop an ability to adapt and manage change in response to new conditions or client need. Within the overarching category and core themes are an overlapping interplay of subsidiary themes that hold different levels of salience for each music therapist and reflect the dynamic, interwoven nature of professional identity. All but one of the participants in this study had trained overseas. Now working in New Zealand as experienced practitioners, it is clear they would have had a significant international influence on the music therapy community in this country. In future it would be interesting to explore how the professional identity of music therapists in New Zealand might have changed as more locally trained music therapists become experienced practitioners. The results of this study also draw attention to the presence and value of supervision within the New Zealand community of music therapists; an individual sense of belonging to a professional group that holds common values and norms, shared approaches and theories; and the strength of the participant’s own musical identity. Music is a key distinguishing factor in the professional identity of music therapists, and the primary modality that they use in their clinical practice. However, that it was rarely used as a method of supervision for music therapists’ in this study seemed significant. The results suggest that a stronger and more expansive awareness of professional identity can potentially be developed through reflection upon the influences on identity, and can consequently positively influence clinical practice.