Jazz has no script, it's a conversation.

by Dr. Nina Browne

“No it’s not therapy” I said. ”I try and work with the external world rather than the internal world. 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?”

This is a common example of me trying to explain my role. I try and find different ways to explain it 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.

Social policy change requires everyone to have highly fluid roles, a departure from the music sheet. 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”.

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. It’s for a different audience, it uses the notes in new ways and makes space for others to start improvising with you. 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”.

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Maybe the idea of a “role” is even outdated.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. 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.

Regardless, it definitely takes up too much time and we need to find more that brings us together than divides us right now. If you were to let go of your script, what might you do differently?

Thank you to Dawn Langdon from Royal Holloway University for the inspiration.

This a new blog series called #practice2policy. It’s about how we apply community psychological thinking to change policy. It’s a conversation, I hope you’ll join in.