Exploring Experiences of Chaos as a Resource Within Short-Term Music Therapy Groups With Young South Africans Who Have Committed Offences
AuthorOosthuizen, Helen Brenda
AffiliationMelbourne Conservatorium of Music
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2020 Helen Brenda Oosthuizen
This thesis presents a theoretical argument and practical possibilities for engaging with chaos as a resource in short-term music therapy groups with young people, based on my work with young South Africans who have committed offences. Chaotic experiences of confusion, destructiveness and disintegration I experienced with groups of young people were regularly accentuated through musicking and left me feeling despondent. Many therapists anecdotally report that the chaotic nature of groups with adolescents is challenging, yet this has rarely been explored in the music therapy literature. Authors who have described chaotic experiences with groups predominantly considered that these experiences required minimisation, modification or resolution. In my work I experienced moments where the chaos in groups was a necessary expression of young people’s lives, reflecting the chaos of a country struggling with racism, inequality and violence. It did not feel appropriate to attempt to resolve or minimise this chaos. In the first part of my research, I explored how a music therapist could understand chaos as a resource in short-term music therapy groups with young South Africans attending a diversion programme for committing sexual offences. I utilised crystallisation, drawing from different research methods to make meaning of my field notes documenting my work in this context over time. My analysis suggested that chaotic experiences sometimes preceded group transformation and were interconnected with moments of order required for group formation. This aligned with a paradoxical approach to group work explicated primarily in literature published within the fields of drama therapy, psychoanalysis and organisational studies. I integrated this literature with my research to propose that chaotic experiences could be welcomed into music therapy groups and harnessed to support young people’s engagement with the paradoxes of creativity and destructiveness. In this way, chaos could support young people to recreate their lives within complex contexts. In the second part of my research, I expanded on the practical applications of a paradoxical approach to music therapy practice. I explored how a music therapist and group members could engage with chaos as a resource, together with members of two short-term music therapy groups with young South Africans referred to diversion programmes for committing drug-related or general offences. I drew upon methods from constructivist grounded theory to analyse video material, group member feedback and my session notes. I presented my findings in the form of a group matrix. The matrix illustrated how engaging with chaos as a resource both freed and pressured each group member to explore group activities, musicking and relationships through a unique variety of active and observational, integrative and disintegrative styles. Those focused on participating in and opposing group activities tried on roles that might influence their engagement in their communities beyond the group. Group members focused on musicking embodied personal and social expressions through dissonant and resonant, tentative and versatile music creations. The communicative nature of musical expressions supported some group members to connect and conflict as they recreated their identity in relationship to others. Group members who remained static in their group interactions appeared to struggle to access the transformative potential of chaotic experiences. My role as the music therapist was to accompany the movement of group members across the landscape of possibilities I observed in the matrix. I provided a holding environment (offering a safe space and waiting before intervening); resourced group members (offering support and challenge); intervened (taking a directive lead or initiating chaos); or co-explored through partnering or witnessing the group. The theory developed through this research illuminates and legitimises a paradoxical approach to group music therapy theory and practice with young people. The matrix serves as a tool that may support music therapists to maximise possibilities for engaging with chaos as a resource.
KeywordsGroup Music Therapy; Chaos; Paradox; Adolescents; Young Offenders; Crystallisation; Grounded Theory
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