Musical Empowerment

  • 03/26/2016
  • JamPlay, LLC
Musical Empowerment (to be referred to as M.E. from this point forward) is an intervention that I co-created a couple of years ago based on my belief that music, in its various forms, can be therapeutic for children. Whether encapsulated in the form of lessons, composition, performance, or even passive-listening the use of music as an effective therapeutic tool has been thoroughly documented in peer-reviewed literature. M.E. is a synthesis between various forms of evidence-based music therapies and more traditional forms of therapy (i.e. behaviorism) combined to provide a more accessible therapeutic experience for children and adolescents. By reducing the power differential between counselor and child and creating common ground on which to communicate, music can be a powerful therapeutic tool in the struggle to understand the world of the child. This understanding is essential in order to facilitate change and subsequent growth in the child. Further, the use of music therapy has been shown to improve the way the child views his or herself on a number of levels (including attractiveness and scholastic ability) which many would equate with the development of self-esteem. Ultimately, the goal of M.E. is to increase levels of communication between adults and kids, boost self-confidence and self-esteem in children and adolescents, and make the process enjoyable so the therapeutic process is painless and enjoyable for both therapist and child.

As a counselor I have had considerable experience working with teenagers and have found that music can become common ground between adults and teens. Many children hold deep-seated grudges towards significant adults in their lives and these negative experiences may prevent them from being able to form meaningful relationships with other adults, including therapists. Preset notions of adult's rigidity and "uncoolness" by said adolescents based on stereotypes of adults that have affected their lives adversely, can be reversed when music is introduced as a common language. After all, an adult who can "rock out" is, at least, slightly more tolerable and respectable to an immovable and insolent teenager. Music tends to mitigate the rift in communication between adult and teen and provide a tableau of common experiences with which to communicate .

As a music teacher, I have found that even the process of teaching music to teens can be therapeutic in and of itself. Even without introducing "traditional" therapeutic interventions or medication (which I am usually opposed to when working with children and teens), the process of simply sharing music and musical experiences between adult and teen has proven to be an effective tool in reinforcing both self-confidence and self-efficacy (belief in self). The following is an excerpt from a letter written by the mother of one of my students who previously had altercations with the law and subsequent psychological issues. His name is deleted in order to protect his rights and uphold the parameters of confidentiality:
"Mark Lincoln has for the past 18 months met with my son ___ once a week, teaching him how to play the guitar and music theory and as ___ says 'just talk about stuff.' ___ is a pretty quiet and laid back kid, not often showing excitement for much of anything except now for his guitar lesson and the time he spends with Mark (even after 18 months). I have seen a change in his shyness in that he doesn't hesitate to perform for us and has on several occasions. This is not typical for ___ because he is not very comfortable being the center of attention. I feel that the interaction ___ has had with Mark has boosted his self-esteem and has actually given us as a family more quality time together listening to what ___ has learned and the pride he shows when he performs for us. Sincerely, _____"
Musical Empowerment goes beyond the atypical rewards and "pats on the back" that are intrinsic to teaching music by collaborating with the parents and significant others of the adolescent with the goal of creating a uniform system of reinforcement. Parents and others are informed concerning the child’s needs and source of self-esteem (music, in this case) and are enlisted as sources of support and advocacy for the child. The child's teachers as well as any other significant others are also informed of the child’s needs and are educated concerning the importance and centrality of music to the individual, as well as the relative progress that the particular child has made as a function of their association with music. This manner of inviting significant adults into a web of support for the child seems to have a remarkable effect on the child as he or she finds themselves in a supportive and positive environment where the activity that they love the most is respected and revered.

M.E has broad applications as a therapeutic tool and can even break through cultural walls as well. Finding the music that is intrinsic to a particular culture and focusing in on the music that the child loves can help to break through cultural barriers that may have previously impeded communication and a subsequent therapeutic relationship. In addition, showing the child that you are curious and motivated enough to familiarize yourself with their culture can be impetus enough for the child to open up on a more personal level.

The expression "music soothes the savage beast" may be a little insensitive, but its enduring truth continues to ring on into the twenty-first century. As a soothing background after a trying day, as a career focus, or as the basis for a therapeutic intervention designed to help troubled teens and children, music is a powerful force. Musical Empowerment utilizes that power to break through to those who may need help in finding a form of communication that fits in with their world view, and helps them to find a new and valuable form of expression that is culturally embraced.

by Mark Steven Lincoln M.A.