Music Therapy Response to Trauma

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After initiating extensive research, The MBC determined that a highly personalized music therapy program would possess the potential for life-changing impact as a powerful and critical tool in the healing process for young people grappling with severe trauma, often related to domestic violence.

The result: development of The Michael Bolton Charities’ Beyond Trauma: Youth Music Therapy program, a one-of-a-kind groundbreaking initiative. Through the Andie Koplik Residency in Music Therapy, the program, launched five years ago, reaches high risk students who have a history of acute trauma, many in the clinical range for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The goal of The MBC in creating the program for children exposed to domestic violence and significant trauma was to bring the positive potential of this unique therapy to bear on the often enduring effects of such violence. Through the use of interactive, client-preferred music, individuals participating in music therapy services are provided with opportunities to address their individualized needs, such as to address and cope with their feelings related to abuse or violence.

Among the participating middle school students, more than half have witnessed violence in their neighborhood, nearly half experienced violence at school, and one-third have witnessed a sudden death. Nearly 8 in 10 indicated that trauma has adversely impacted their general happiness with life, and their school work.

The 2021 End Year Report on the Beyond Trauma: Youth Music Therapy program and the Andie Koplik Residency in Music Therapy provides an array of outside research into the impact of music therapy. It ties this research to the specific experiences of the music therapists and students in The Michael Bolton Charities initiative. Excerpts from the research cited in the report:

“Since the passing of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), all students are entitled to the same educational opportunities in the same educational settings. Music therapy at schools has focused on supporting students with special needs within the context of their Individualized Education Program (IEP).”

“As a result of this act, students who experienced (severe) developmental challenges learn side-by-side their typically developing peers. Including music therapy in the student’s IEP can have enormous benefits: “by creating, singing, moving, and listening to music, a wide range of cognitive, emotional, and physical abilities are brought into focus. Under the direction of a qualified music therapist, the new skills learned in the music therapy setting can be transferred to other areas of the student’s life.” (AMTA, 2006).

“…for younger people specifically, engagement with music is often correlated with reduced feelings of worthlessness and an increase in self-esteem (Landis-Shack et al., 2017). These findings are echoed by others, such as Roley (2017), who finds that seven of the nine articles included in her review on music therapy among adolescents with emotional and behavioral disorders “noted self-esteem, self-worth, or a combination of both, to be positively impacted by the interventions of music therapy” (report, p. 24).

Music therapy can have a larger impact too and “music therapy has been proven to contribute to cognitive, psychosocial and academic development” Sze (2006, p. 117).

Students’ music is a means of reducing anxiety and anger, changing attitudes toward academic work and their own potential. The principal at one of the schools described the profound impact: “Through music, our students have demonstrated growth in social and emotional learning, and have found solace where trauma had once overtaken their lives. Student engagement and sense of belonging have heightened and have given way to joy and purpose in their lives.”

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