Music therapy: Building bridges between a participatory approach and trauma informed care in a child welfare setting

Many children and adolescents that are in the child welfare system struggle with mental health challenges that are often a result of past trauma. In a Norwegian study, Viggo, Nordanger, & Stige (2018) looked into the perceptions of music therapy by social workers working in the child welfare system.

In this study, interviews were conducted with nine social workers who had clients who had experienced music therapy. Most of those interviewed found music therapy to be incredibly beneficial for their clients and four overall themes were found within the interviews:

  • Music Therapy can help establish the sense of safety and well-being
  • Music therapy provides the opportunity to establish relationships and experience of mastery
  • Music Therapy provides the ability to process complex emotions
  • Music Therapy can contribute to continuity and stability over time and across situations.

The social workers interviewed felt that music therapy provided a stable/predictable, safe, and caring framework/therapeutic relationship for the children. Furthermore, music therapy was a new, challenging therapy with enjoyable activities/interventions the children could master while establishing a sense of belonging with their peers.

The social workers also reported that difficult emotions were easier for clients to express in music therapy (especially through improvisation or songwriting). Music was also already a part of the children and adolescents daily lives, so strengthening and deepening this relationship to music contributed towards continuity and stability.

This study is important because it supports past research in music therapy findings that music therapy can provide a sense of well-being, emotional connectivity, and structure.

It also shows that music therapy can promote safety, good relationship experiences, and coping skills, which supports the three pillars of trauma-informed care of safety, relationship, and sense of mastery. Music therapy may be a supportive treatment for those with past trauma and when working from a trauma informed perspective, especially if collaborating or co-treating with other professionals (such as social work).

For more information on music therapy or how to find a music therapist in your area, please continue to www.centralohiomusictherapy.com or www.musictherapy.org.

By Jessica Fletcher, MM, MT-BC

Viggo, K., Nordanger, D., & Stige, B. (2018). Music therapy: Building bridges between a participatory approach and trauma informed care in a child welfare setting. Voices: A World Form for Music Therapy,18(4).