Don’t fear jazz

Dr Nina Browne on 'letting go of the script'.

I thought about it. ‘No it’s not therapy’, I said. ‘Therapy is one solution definitely. It can help us understand ourselves better. But then it’s a huge problem if we have to go back into a world which doesn’t work for us’. I explain that I still use the same skills but not within the same boundaries. She paused. ‘Oh I get it… so it’s like you’re classically trained, but actually you’re making jazz?’

I try to find different ways to explain my role, and ultimately people have to find their own frame of reference. The work moves faster than my ability to explain it. This particular academic’s interpretation got me thinking.

I’m a clinical psychologist by training. It’s ‘classical’ in that you’re taught a traditional method of playing, based on some core theories and ideas. But in order to change policy, you have to improvise with the knowledge base. Everyone requires highly fluid roles, a departure from the music sheet. A different audience need the notes in new ways, with space for others to start improvising with you.

There are pros and cons to working outside of a public system, or making a departure from how you’re trained. The freedom to innovate; the people you get to meet and collaborate with; the ability to respond rapidly and change what you do. But that comes with a feeling of isolation and nervousness and the concern that I’m not doing what I was trained to do. There’s a lot of getting it wrong and trying again. The impact of what I do feels harder to measure.

Maybe the idea of a ‘role’ is even outdated. We’ve been carved up into job descriptions, professions and organisations. We need to find more things that bring us together. Roles can put armour around us, but they can hinder us too. The ability to make a difference in the world is in no way linked to a title. Yet we’ve created a system that means you’re more likely to be heard if you have one.

Growing up in a household of jazz, and named after Nina Simone, it’s not new to me. But I’d complain to my dad that I couldn’t hear the rhythm. ‘It’s there’, he would say, ‘just listen harder’. Jazz musician Don Cherry said ‘When people believe in boundaries, they become part of the problem’, and it’s as if Miles Davis is describing our test and learn approach: ‘when you hit a wrong note, it’s the next that makes it good or bad’. What’s your next note? If, as a psychologist, you were to let go of your script, what might you do differently?

Dr Nina Browne
Clinical and Community Psychologist  
The Owls Organisation, London

Illustration: Tim Sanders

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