Experiencing and perspectives of music therapists working with families experiencing poverty

Families living in poverty often experience stressors such as housing instability, poor nutrition, substance abuse, social isolation, mental illness, and violence in the community. These economic and emotional stressors often distract from consistent and supportive parenting and impacts the physical and mental health of children and adults.

In this study, Nagel & Silverman looked into the effects of music therapy on families experiencing poverty. They identified five music therapists who had experience or were currently working with families experiencing poverty in urban areas of the United States. The researchers conducted interviews with the music therapists and identified the following themes: 

Music therapy facilitates the development of parenting skills via education and interaction. Music therapists saw positive parenting skills being developed during the music therapy sessions that occurred after children were placed back into their homes after child protection cases. Families were able to comfortably parent while gaining self-care skills. Families engaged in supportive language with one another, gentle touches, etc. that led to strengthening bonds between parent and child.  

Children and adults generalize skills from music therapy sessions to daily life. Music therapists noticed that the families were able to practice healthy interactions within the group that they used at home after the music therapy sessions. Furthermore, song books or CDs for families to use at home were noted to assist with transferring the learned skills to home.

  • Awareness of the factors and unique stressors associated with poverty positively impacts the therapeutic process. Many families experiencing poverty in the study were people of color, while the music therapists were all white. Culturally relevant music for the families could be incorporated in the sessions while acknowledging the differences in race, culture, and socioeconomic status. Music therapists noticed that music therapy was a non-intimidating intervention and families were able to immediately engage in sessions and experience success. 
  • Music therapy compliments the broader continuum of support services to meet individual needs. The music therapist’s interviewed stated that music therapy sessions with these families created a unique and expressive alternative to meet multiple individual and collective needs. Music therapy also reinforced goals from other treatment providers due to the flexibility of music therapy sessions. 

This study gives a glimpse into the music therapist’s perceptions of working with families experiencing poverty. It should be noted that these words came from the music therapists, not the actual parents and children experiencing music therapy. However, the study shows that music therapy can have a positive impact for families experiencing poverty, particularly with a space to improve parent and children’s interactions and generalizing these skills to home. 


By Jessica Fletcher, MM, MT-BC

Nagel, J. J., & Silverman, M. J. (2017). Experiencing and perspectives of music therapists working with families experiencing poverty: A Qualitative Investigation. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy,17(2). doi:10.15845/voices.v17i2.914