Rap and singing are used by music therapists to enhance emotional self-regulation of youth

As a music therapist who works with a variety of populations, I often get the question “Can Rap/Hip Hop be used in music therapy?”. While this is a personal passion of mine, recently Uhlig, Dimitriadis, Hakvoort, & Scherder (2017) completed a survey study to see if and how music therapists are using Rap/Hip Hop in their sessions.

Many young people identify Rap/Hip Hop as a preferred genre of music. As music therapists, it is our job to meet clients where they are and include their preferred music within our music therapy sessions. The genre has been controversial and is often accused of being aggressive, misogynistic, violent, etc. However, lyrics can often contain empowering lyrics of describing grief, friendships, family issues, imprisonment, and even question socioeconomic and racial divides.

In the study, which occurred in The Netherlands, the researchers asked open ended questions regarding rapping and singing within music therapy practice. After exclusion, 64 survey responses were included in the research. All of the respondents used singing on a daily or weekly basis and some of the respondents stated that they used rapping on a daily basis. Forty percent of respondents used it only 1-5 times a year as an active intervention (i.e. more than just listening to the music). However, thirty three percent of the respondents reported never using rap as a music therapy intervention.

About eighty percent of the respondents agreed that Rap could be used in music therapy to support individual expression and strengthen sense of self. Seventy seven percent of respondents agreed that Rap/Hip Hop could be used to regulate emotions and forty four percent believed the genre could be used for practicing social skills. The respondents also reported that they observed increased engagement in the music therapy activities and a decrease in aggressive moods when using Rap/Hip Hop in music therapy. Some changes in client cognitive functioning, especially their perception of the intention of therapy, and an increase in client self esteem were also observed by the music therapy respondents when using Rap/Hip Hop.

This study is important because it shows that there are a variety of ways that Rap/Hip Hop can be applied and be valued in music therapy. This may help break the stigma of the genre and help music therapists, and perhaps client families, be more accepting of using Rap/Hip Hop in their everyday music therapy practice when requested by a client. For more information on music therapy, please continue to www.centralohiomusictherapy.com or www.musictherapy.org.

By Jessica Fletcher, MM, MT-BC

Uhlig, S., Dimitriadis, T., Hakvoort, L., & Scherder, E. (2017). Rap and singing are used by music therapists to enhance emotional self-regulation of youth: Results of a survey of music therapists in the Netherlands. The Arts in Psychotherapy,53, 44-54. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2016.12.001