Skip to main content




April 5, 2013
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine

Hadley book explores racial identity

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -Susan Hadley, Slippery Rock University professor of music therapy, has written "Experiencing Race as a Music Therapist: Personal Narratives." The newly published, 220-page book explores the role of racial identity in the therapy setting.

Hadley said the narrative grew out of conversations with 17 music therapists living in different parts of the world, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Puerto Rico and England. She conducted research for three years.

HADLEY"My hope is that these conversations will inspire more music therapists to examine the ways in which their racialized identities and their racialized experiences impact the therapeutic relationship and the profession as a whole," she said.

Hadley said students and music therapists should become more self-aware of racial identity and experience, power structure and disabilities. She argues that race shapes how people understand themselves, view the world and interact with other therapy clients.

Even those people who assume they are race neutral inadvertently treat people differently based on race, because of the cultural construction of racial identity, she said. A greater awareness of racial identity will help therapists avoid stereotyping, she said.

"From these narratives, we can see that our life experiences shape how we understand ourselves and others, our assumptions and biases, and the effort with which we form relations with different groups of people," Hadley said. "The music therapists in this book have shared their experiences in the hope that we can learn to sit in our discomfort, without judgment, lowering our defenses in order to learn more about ourselves and others."

Music therapy is a health field in which therapists use music to address the physical, emotional and cognitive needs of people.

Hadley said she recorded conversations and transcribed comments verbatim. Then she took the information, reordered and reworded aspects of the conversations and sent each narrative to the respective music therapist asking them to keep a conversational tone.

Hadley said she employed a conversational narrative in order to bring the reader into the narrative as if he/she was there being spoken to directly. The result is a "rich tapestry on conversations about race, conversations that don't shy away from self-examination.

The music therapists describe the racial and cultural contexts in which they were born and describe the racial demographics of the places they have lived at various times in their lives. The therapists discussed their specific experiences of their racialized identities when they were studying music therapy and how they experienced their racialized identities in their professional lives.

"Many of them also described the differences they were aware of in terms of how they experienced themselves as raced or how they experienced the therapeutic relationship when they were working with people of their own 'race' compared with working with people who were from a different 'race.'"

An example is some therapists choose songs for use in therapy that reinforce generalizations about race. Hadley said her book focuses on the global perspective and the personal biases some therapists have that may influence their musical choices.

Another of her goals for the book is to provide a resource for students, because there are not many books that engage music therapists on issues of racial embodiment.

"This book grew out of my teaching focus and needs," Hadley said. "Over the years, I have developed a seminar class for senior undergraduate music therapy students in which we explore issues of diversity in ways that consciously avoid interpreting diversity as a politically neutral and power-free social arrangement."

The book, published by Barcelona Publishing, is available at

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.