Evaluation of a music therapy social skills development program for youth with limited resources

Youth living within low-resource communities are at a greater risk for poorer socio-emotional development. A youth’s socio-emotional competence includes their ability to use one’s skills and knowledge for navigation within different environments, interactions with others, and adapting to expectations. Music therapy clinicians often serve children and youth who have experienced threats to their adaptation resulting from exposure to social, cultural, or economic stressors. Pasiali and Clark decided to examine the potential benefit a music therapy social skills development program may have on improving social skills and academic performance of school-aged children who have limited resources in afterschool programs.

For this study, participants were recruited from an afterschool program delivered in a leasing office area at a public-housing apartment. The data of 14 participants was used in the study due to 7 participants becoming ineligible for different reasons not associated with a lack of interest or decision to discontinue. Due to the nature of the study setting, all individuals who participated in this study were exposed to various social, economic, or cultural stressors. All individuals who participated in the study received 50 minutes of weekly music therapy sessions for eight weeks delivered in a group setting. Group sizes fluctuate depending on the week, ranging from 8 to 21 students. Each week, students attending the program verbally assented to participate in music therapy. During sessions, the music therapist guided session content based upon scores from the Home and Community Social Behavioral Scale. Music therapy sessions consisted of experiences such as movement to music, active music-making, Orff-based musical exercises, improvisation, role-play, music-assisted relaxation, music performance, and songwriting.

To examine the effect of music therapy, Pasiali and Clark designed a single-group pre/post-test design to examine improvements in problem behaviors, academic performance, and social skills resulting from participating in the program. The Social Skills Improvement System results indicated significant improvement in communication. Problem behaviors decreased significantly in regards to hyperactivity/inattentiveness and autistic tendencies. However, internalizing behaviors only indicated a marginal decrease. Overall, participating in the eight-session program showed a reduced average number of low-performance/high-risk behaviors.

This study has shown through analysis of a pre/post-test design, that music therapy may have a significant effect on socio-emotional development with children who are living within low-resource communities. This study used a small sample size of participants living in an environment with various social, economic, or cultural stressors to take a look at their socio-emotional development through the creation of a social skills development program for youth with limited resources.

Sara May, MT-BC

Pasiali, V., & Clark, C. (2018). Evaluation of a music therapy social skills development program for youth with limited resources. Journal of music therapy, 55(3), 280-308. Doi:10.1093/jmt/thy007