[Position Paper]

Music, Violence and Music Therapy with Young People in Schools: A position paper

By Katrina Skewes McFerran & Andreas Wölfl

Music therapists have rarely involved themselves in the discourse linking music and violence. Instead, representatives of the profession have advocated for the positive outcomes that can result from the use of music by trained therapists working with people who have experienced violence or been violent. In this position paper, we will elaborate a much-needed position that first acknowledges the ways that music can promote violence, and then focuses on different ways to work with young people involved in violence. The position paper is structured around the examination of three types of music therapy programs and our purpose is to bring to light the beliefs that underpin each program, both the viewpoints about the cause of violence, and assumptions about how potentially negative relationships between young people and music can be made positive. We conclude by describing different methods for evaluating such programs that are congruent with the assumptions that underpin them. It is hoped that the positions we delineate will support music therapists and others to be more conscious of the relationship between music and violence when designing programs for young people.

Keywords: music, music therapy, violence, aggression


A Brief History of Music and Violence

Although many ancient cultures used music for healing, music has also been appropriated as a tactical approach to ensure victory during warfare. Drums have been used regularly by tribes and armies to intimidate and demoralize the enemy (Norris, 2012), although there is surprisingly sparse reference to this phenomenon in the literature. For example, in New Zealand the Haka chant issues a challenge to the enemy, incorporating fierce body slapping, tongue protrusion and foot stamping whilst chanting on the battlefield (Taylor, 2010). This dance is still used in the sporting arena, where team members dance the Haka at the beginning of Rugby games (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zi0igR4AJ0U).

In addition to ancient traditions of using music as a method of intimidation, contemporary war leaders have also used the power of music to unify groups and reduce anxiety pre-attack. Hitler and his minister for propaganda used military marches like the “Horst-Wessel-Lied” (Behrenbeck, 2011, S. 134-148) and extensive marching together in time to promote “muscular manifestations of group solidarity” (McNeill, 1995, p. 10). Keeping together in time was used to manifest a sense of oneness against the enemy, contributing to the reduction of individual boundaries that supported inconceivably violent actions against the outsider. Because playing and singing music together can be used to reduce anxiety on psychological and neurobiological levels (Stegemann, 2015; Glogau & Wölfl, in press), these effects have also been used in fighting, especially before and in cruel face-to-face battles like Waterloo or Gattysburg (Currie, 1992). The use of music in warfare has continued to the present day, and Johnson and Cloonan (2008) describe contemporary strategies such as musical humiliation or musical disorientation (p.150). This can involve playing music loudly and repeatedly as a weapon of torture, or the selection of incongruous music, such as the theme song from the children’s television show, Barney (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKpLckW-W3w).

The relationship between music and violence is not limited to formal warfare, however, and it is also associated with many urban acts of violence in contemporary contexts. Sonic abuse (Johnson & Cloonan, 2009) is one way of describing repeated exposure to loud music played by neighbours that can lead to aggressive interactions. Johnson and Cloonan have carefully documented the different ways that music can accompany, incite, arouse and be violent. Although music is frequently reported to support positive identity formation, music is also an identifiable feature of aggressive gangs or radical political groups (Krüger, 2012), and particular extreme music scenes, such as death metal, have often identified themselves with violent themes and violent actions (Bogue, 2004). As an example, Rosemary Overell (2014) describes the experience of brutal belonging in the grindcore scenes in Australia and Japan, where “out-of-control violence, usually perpetrated by a male subject” (p. 170) is a powerful feature.

Despite the familiarity of these kinds of examples, positive commentary about the relationship between music and peace is more accessible than the mostly obscure documentation of musical violence. Music has been memorably associated with peaceful protests against war, such as the Woodstock Festival, with artists such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Pete Seeger making prolific contributions (Bennett, 2004). The Singing Revolution in Estonia also illustrates the successful use of music for nonviolent protest, with the Estonians ultimately freeing themselves from oppression through a commitment to shared singing (Tutsy & Tusty, 2008). Members of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa appropriated music in powerful ways, often choosing to sing and dance as a form of peaceful protest (Olwage, 2008). Many music therapists emphasise the appropriation of the peaceful power of music, with some music therapists explicitly identifying with the link between music and peace (Moreno, 2005), and there is surprisingly limited reference to aggression in the literature, let alone music and violence.

Music Therapy and Violence

John Pelliterri (2009) suggests that music therapists would benefit from a greater awareness of emotional processes; and our reading suggests that most literature in the field contains only passing reference to destructive emotions such as violence and hate. When working with violence, music therapists are confronted by their own aggressive emotions, as well as being required to manage experiences of counter-transference such as fear and anxiety in response to threats, or even unexpected concordant feelings like strong anger and rage (Wölfl, 2014). Although many music therapists work with people described as having emotional problems or emotional disturbances, the types of negative emotional experiences described in depth in the literature are most often anxiety and sadness, and less often, anger. Some exceptions exist, such as the work of Laurien Hakvoort (2002) who has specifically described an anger management program for forensic offenders, where music provides a way of increasing awareness of anger. In the USA, Nancy Jackson (2010) has used a survey to explore the different ways American music therapists report responding to anger. Her analysis suggests that therapists working with different theoretical orientations approach negative emotions distinctly. Those with a cognitive behavioural orientation report a greater tendency to redirect anger; those whose lens is humanistic are more likely to validate it; while those adopting a psychoanalytic lens either work through the anger or contain the expression of anger. In English-language music therapy literature we are only aware of one article that has specifically addressed music therapy and violence, written by Andreas Wölfl (the second author) and another describing a preventative program in schools (Nöcker-Ribaupierre & Wölfl, 2010). This leads to the focus of this paper, which is to explore different ways of working with violence and young people within the school system.

Given the lack of written descriptions of programs that address violence within music therapy, we have chosen to provide descriptions of three types of programs to address this gap. These programs are based broadly on work that we are familiar with, but have been expanded to illustrate the key points in the paper. The position we adopt is that any program should have alignment between beliefs about the cause of violence, ways that music is used, aims and format, and the types of participants recruited. By describing each of these three programs as distinct, we are able to debate the relative merits of each set of ontological and epistemological positions and make recommendations for consideration in the design of programs. However, it is worthy of note that this commentary emerged from a shared sense of agreement about programs that we will now describe as distinct and different. We do not mean to suggest that these differences are entirely evident in the ways we interact with the young people with whom we work, or that they are mutually exclusive, but rather, that the theoretical distinctions are worthy of consideration and acknowledgement. We both identify strongly with a humanistic orientation that emphasises flourishing. Therefore we have not distinguished one specific model as being more humanistic than the other, but suggest that all three programs have humanistic elements. These areas of distinction are outlined in Table 1 to offer a summary of key points relevant to the discussions that follow.

Table 1. Different Types of Programs Addressing Violence
Most Relevant Theoretical Orientation Beliefs About the Cause of Violence Use of Music in Everyday Life Program Aims Participants Format
Psychodynamic Traumatic early childhood experiences Priming To provide positive experiences of relationship that mediate the effects of stressors At-risk youth with challenging behaviours Process-oriented and Individual
Developmental Modelling of violent behaviours in different life-contexts (family, peers, institutions) Badge of identity To understand aggressive emotions, and to develop constructive strategies for conflict resolution Mixed groups made up of whole school-classes with some students, who show propensity to aggressive and violent behaviour Short or medium term semi-structured and process-oriented group program
Systemic Societal expectations about power Represents societal attitudes To critically examine attitudes towards men and women Mixed groups with sustained participant engagement Process in working with system, consultation to support sustainable uses in future

Comparing Program Types

Working with aggressive individuals in process oriented music therapy

A music therapy program takes place in a school for young people, mostly young men, who have been expelled from other schools because of their socially unacceptable behaviour. Individual music therapy sessions involve collaboration between each young person and the music through active music making and some music listening.

Beliefs about the cause of violence. A common perspective in therapy circles is that experiences in early childhood shape attitudes to violence, influencing the individual’s temperament and capacity for impulse control (Cierpka, 2002, 2008). Relationships with the primary caregiver are believed to impact attachment (Bowlby, 2008) and the development of affect-regulation, empathy, mentalization (Fonagy & Target, 2004) and constructive conflict resolution skills (Brisch & Hellbrügge, 2009). A lack of bonding and empathy with caregivers, and especially traumatic violent experiences, can impede the development of these abilities and generate a higher readiness for violent acts (Cierpka, 2002, 2008).

Use of music in everyday life. Individuals who have a history of violence are likely to have associations between music and violence, and research has shown that violence-prone adolescents do use music to stimulate and turn up their aggressive feelings and preparedness for aggression (Liell, 2001; Stöver, 2000). One of the ways music psychologists describe the function of music in this context is to activate “a network of associations that are linked by shared mood connections” (Crozier & Ray, 1997, p. 79). Music is thought to stimulate specific behaviours and cognitions because of the blueprints that are triggered by both the music and accompanying media, such as video (Pichon, Boccato, & Saroglou, 2007). Some studies show that associations and correlations between listening to aggressive music and an increased likelihood of violent behaviour persist even when a range of other variables are controlled for (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2009) although these findings have not been consistently confirmed (Liell, 2001; Stöver, 2000). The use of music for discharge has also been associated with mental ill-health (Thomson, Reece, & Benedetto, 2014), and narrative descriptions of violent adolescents using music for venting exist in the literature (Beckmann, 2013). One clinical report describes different qualities of hearing aggressive music: as a stimulation of aggressive behaviour as well as a form of containing and venting aggressive emotions, without becoming violent (Wölfl, in press).

Music therapy programs. A review of the literature describing music therapy and adolescents (McFerran, 2010, Chap. 1) revealed that individual music therapy is the most common format for working with adolescents. Three authors have been identified in the English-language literature who describe individual work and aggression, with two adopting behavioural or cognitive behavioural approaches to improve self esteem (Castellano & Wilson, 1970; Kivland, 1986) and one identifying a psychodynamic orientation to interpret the behaviours of non-verbal adolescents (Strange, 2012). Two further studies examine individual music therapy work with adolescents who have experienced trauma (Derrington, 2012; Viega, 2013), and both draw on psychodynamic theories to inform their understandings of the young people with whom they work.

Recommendations. Music scholars have persistently identified that young people with violent tendencies are inclined to use music to prime aggressive behaviour. Therefore, when using music as part of a therapeutic encounter with a young person who has a history of violent behaviours it is essential to explore their existing relationship with music. The correlations in the research literature should not be mistaken for causation however, and despite the consistent evidence of correlation, a rigorous review of evidence has shown that music does not have a causal influence on the behaviour of young people (North & Hargreaves, 2008). In other words, listening to ‘problem’ music does not trigger violent behaviours (North & Hargreaves, 2006), but it can support, enhance, intensify and prime violence.

If the cause of violent behaviour is believed to be experiences of abuse and trauma in early childhood, then individual psychodynamic work can be very appropriate. Psychodynamic music therapy is a relational model that seeks to repair damage to attachment through increased awareness of the unconscious responses to early experiences that have since become habitual (Hadley, 2003). Diane Austin (1996) explains why improvised music often plays a critical role in this approach since it naturally creates conditions in which new ways of being in relationship can be experienced, and conscious and unconscious beliefs can be mediated and symbolically represented. This can involve the young person working directly with their own threatening and negative feelings, as well as the exploration of counter-transferences and the provision of boundaries and safety for that process (Derrington, 2012). If adolescents are willing to step into the unknown experience of exploring musical sounds on unfamiliar instruments in order to better understand their unconscious motivations, this can be powerful work and can sidestep associations with existing music repertoire.

However, many young people (and adults) find improvised musical experiences overwhelming (McIntyre, 2007) and prefer to engage with more familiar musical material. In practice, music therapy sessions that use a combination of known songs and improvisation may be the most likely to engage young people. It may be effective to begin sessions with discussions about preferred music and then move into playing along with recordings or re-creating favourite songs. After creating a secure base of shared music making experiences, vulnerable young people may be more willing to explore new possibilities such as original song writing and free jamming or improvisation. For some young people this may take months or years, but for others, the process may develop much more quickly. Some recognition of existing preferences for music is usually essential, and this has been recognised in more contemporary and integrative models of music therapy that challenge the more purist, traditional psychotherapeutic approaches (Rolvsjord, 2010).

Some published discourse about the use of recorded songs and receptive approaches in psychodynamic music therapy exists (Bruscia, 1998; Metzner, 2004), and two graduate researchers have focused specifically on the potentials of rap music to be used in music therapy. Mike Viega’s research (2008, 2013) examined the symbolic and metaphoric meanings that young people associated with their preferred rap music, but did not directly explore associations with violent or aggressive behaviour. Helen Short’s research (2013) examined the perceived contraindications reported by experienced music therapists who use rap music in therapy. She explored the ways therapists responded to offensive language in songs, and the ways that clients might be masking or defending against vulnerability through their music selections. Therapists in Short’s study reported recognising the potential for rap music to be overstimulating, sometimes evoking antisocial tendencies or avoiding true feelings about a situation by reverting to fantasy. Given the research findings about the ways that young people may associate violence and music, this kind of critical awareness is fundamental to music therapy practices utilising the preferred music of young people. In addition, young people sometimes feel worse after music listening (Arnett, 1991; McFerran, Garrido, O'Grady, Grocke, & Sawyer, 2014) which needs to be anticipated. However, it does not suggest that recorded music should be avoided, rather, that sufficient consideration be given to its inclusion.

Working with groups of school students in semi-structured, short term music therapy

An anti-violence program with whole class groups takes place in a mainstream school where there is a high level of violence in the surrounding youth culture. Intensive short-term music therapy programs explicitly discuss bullying and violence and promote building respectful group-interactions. Group drumming and music improvisation are used to practice positive interactions with others and develop constructive solutions in handling aggressive situations.

Beliefs about the cause of violence. Another popular understanding about the cause of violence is derived from social learning theory (Bandura, 1978), which suggests that observing others being rewarded for aggressive behaviour can motivate violent actions. If the young person observes and/or experiences aggression in their home life or their peer group, they are thought to be more likely to model violent behaviours (Fields & McNamara, 2003). The family of origin is further implicated because a lack of transfer of ethical values and respectful non-violent interaction are also seen as instrumental in the formation of aggressive behaviour, in combination with social aspects (Hurrelmann & Bründel, 2007; Nolting, 2008)). In this way, external variables in psychological development are believed to cause violent behaviour, although responsibility still remains with the individual. These external factors incorporate relationships with caregivers and family members to other social contexts such as school, peers, the media and society (Cierpka, 2008; Wölfl, 2014).

Use of music in everyday life. Studies from sociology and social psychology have emphasized the function of music as a ‘badge’ of identity (Frith, 1981) and yet the importance of the peer group is sometimes ignored in music psychology studies. Adolescents report being remarkably aware of what their music choices convey to their peers and often moderate what music is shared in order to purposefully manage relationships (Tarrant, North, & Hargreaves, 2001). Ruud (1997) proposes that music is used to perform identity, rather than more simply expressing it, but this performance is not always uplifting. Roe (1995) describes how under-achieving young people may purposefully identify with music that represents their sense of failure in the school system. Sociological studies of metal music have also examined this possibility, describing the bonds that metal fans form between one another and how this can also reflect a refusal to subscribe to social norms (Snell & Hodgetts, 2007). Another study of metal fans showed that making contact with similar others was critical in identifying with the genre, with one participant describing using music to isolate himself from others around him but simultaneously connect with a parasocial world of metal-heads (Hines & McFerran, 2013).

Music therapy programs. A number of group music therapy programs are described in the literature, despite being less commonly reported than individual work. These programs often take place in institutional settings such as juvenile justice facilities (Johnson, 1981; Rio & Tenney, 2002; Skaggs, 1997), or alternative school settings (Baker & Jones, 2005; Eidson, 1989; Montello, 1988; Rickson, 2003; 2006), or are part of specific programs for substance abuse and chemical dependence (Albornoz, 2011; Bernazz & Nicholl, 1992; James, 1988; McFerran, 2011; Silverman, 2003) and displaced youth / refugees (Kok, 2006; Hippel & Laabs, 2006; Peters, 2009; Tüpker et al. 2005; Tüpker 2006). Despite the fact that violent and aggressive behaviours are often connected to criminal behaviour and substance abuse, few of these authors have described addressing this particular issue. Reported outcomes in the broader literature include improved impulse control (Cassity, 1996; Dvorkin, 1991; Wyatt, 2002) and decreases in aggression (Frank-Schwebal, 2002), but none of these programs specify group work.

Recommendations. Some music therapists have restricted the use of recorded music in therapeutic contexts where violence and aggression are common, either because their management demands it or because of their own concerns (Bushong, 2002). We do not recommend a restrictive attitude, since this ignores the potential of using recorded music to reduce aggressive behaviour and increase impulse control. However, concerns about shared associations that groups attach to particular songs about substance use (McFerran, 2013), or unhealthy behaviours (McFerran, 2005) do need to be carefully managed.

If one cause of violence is modelling from the actions of others, then group work that uses active music making such as improvisation and song creation is a well-matched approach. Structured activities can be designed that provide opportunities to rehearse new behaviours (cognitive and emotional), and instrumental play can be used to learn how to regulate the expression of feelings. By externalising and then re-enacting scenarios in which violence can occur, young people have the opportunity to discover new solutions to volatile situations. This can increase awareness of their own inner feelings and therefore lead to increased self-understanding and self-control, as well as empathy and scenic recognizing. In addition the opportunities to rehearse can lead to increased impulse control, as situations become more familiar and responses more controlled.

The use of active music making can also be tailored to suit the local context, both in terms of musical and social decisions. Contextual influences will include the age of group members and their preferred musical genres. Younger people may prefer more imaginary play with instruments, or some groups may be more interested in hip-hop forms rather than drum circles. If aggression and bullying is a problem in the school, the nature of the activities will be more carefully tailored and role selections will need to be monitored. If the larger community is more violent than the school itself, it may be possible to create more dramatic scenarios without triggering internal dynamics. The DrumPower program in Germany (McFerran & Wölfl, in-press; Wölfl, 2012) uses a combination of structured music improvisation and music therapeutic role-play to achieve these diverse goals.

Active music making can be stimulating, and two adolescent studies have described how teachers report that aggressive students sometimes return to class in an aroused state following music therapy (McFerran, 2009; Rickson & Watkins, 2003). Whilst increased expression of feelings might be useful within the therapy session, this can lead to negative consequences if the behaviour is taken back in to the classroom. Not only does the therapist need to contain and manage the negative emotions expressed overtly by group members, but they are also required to work with unconscious dynamics that are related to the exploration of violence. Carefully structured activities are one way to manage the high levels of arousal that music can inspire if the therapist believes that self-control is key to addressing violent behaviour. In addition the participation of interested and engaged teachers in music therapy may help to integrate experiences and results of the music therapy work in daily school life. Sharing reflections and fostering respectful cooperation between music therapists and teachers strengthen the transfer to the classroom and can achieve long-term effects (Wölfl, 2014).

Consulting with schools to develop positive musical cultures that promote equity and reduce bullying and exclusion

A mainstream school engages a music therapist to consult with them about ways of integrating music into their existing curricular and wellbeing programs. Their aim is to reduce bullying and exclusion in the school and increase wellbeing and connectedness through positive experiences, such as those provided by shared music making projects and programs.

Beliefs about the cause of violence. Although it is individuals who are aggressive, ecological perspectives (Bronfenbrenner, 2005) suggest that the systems surrounding individuals and groups can be implicated as the cause of violent behaviour (Ungar & Perry, 2012). The outermost layer of this model is the macrosystem, where the values, customs and attitudes of the cultural group are located. In many cultures, societal expectations of men as dominant and in control are believed to establish norms about power that lead to tolerance of inequitable attitudes, such as when women are blamed for inciting violence against them (Flood & Pease, 2009). Young people are thought to lack critical awareness of stereotypical, gendered behaviours and fail to consider how their accepting inequity in interpersonal relationships can underpin violent behaviours (Jewkes, Flood, & Lang, 2014). Therefore increasing awareness of how privileged persons can dominate those with less power, through bullying and exclusions, is thought to reduce the likelihood of further aggression and violence.

Use of music in everyday life. According to this perspective, the presence of inequities and objectification in both music lyrics and music videos can unconsciously reinforce tolerance of violent behaviour. A number of meta-analyses have been conducted to determine whether exposure to violent media results in violent behavior (Ferguson & Kilburn, 2009; Savage & Yancey, 2008), and whilst some individual studies do show strong correlations, the methodological quality of these outcomes have been questioned. Other studies have targeted the ways that sexuality is portrayed, with one study showing that music with misogynistic lyrics can both incite young men to treat women in negative ways and women listeners to behave in disempowered ways (Barongan & Hall, 1995). Similar results have been found in correlational studies of young men who have viewed pornography before the age of 14 years and are found to be more likely to engage in sexual harassment two years later (Brown & L’Engle, 2009). Anderson and Carnagy (2004) present an ecologically sensitive explanation for these findings, suggesting that music stimulates aggressive responses only when the surrounding context also reinforces aggression, either because of violent attitudes and behaviours, or other abuses of power.

Music therapy programs. Contemporary music therapy programs have started to adopt systemic perspectives that reach beyond family systems and begin to consider macrosystems (Stige, Ansdell, Elefant, & Pavlicevic, 2010). Community music therapy programs have now been documented with aspirations to impact the surrounding culture (Stige & Aarø, 2012). Although none of these is specifically tailored to the prevention of violence, adolescents have had the opportunity to voice their dissatisfaction with oppressive systems (Elefant, 2010; Krüger & Stige, 2015), which is considered critical in any anti-oppressive approach (Baines, 2013). One approach has been proposed in the literature that specifically works to empower young women to explore gender-role socialisation and to promote social transformation (Veltre & Hadley, 2011). These authors provide songs associated with Feminist Hip-Hop and suggest ways that they can be included as part of a group process. These ideas are entirely congruent with a belief system that locates the cause of violence at multiple levels of the system. Other approaches have focused on strengthening connectedness in school communities as a way of reducing isolation and bullying by promoting wellbeing and connectedness (Rickson & McFerran, 2014). These ideas provide the kind of positive and aspirational programming that is recommended when there is a foundation of clear agreements about women and girl’s rights to violence-free lives (Michau, Horn, Bank, Dutt, & Zimmerman, 2014).

Recommendations. Challenging culturally reinforced assumptions about the ways that men and women relate to one another is not a short-term intervention. Investigations of best-practice prevention programs has shown that long-term programs are most likely to be effective (Jewkes, et al., 2014). This may mean that withdrawing young people from class to participate in music therapy programs that address an anti-violence agenda may not be viable because it would mean missing large amounts of curriculum materials over time. One alternative is that music therapists can work in collaboration with teachers to engage young people in classroom activities. These kinds of partnerships have been described as part of the MusicMatters program in Australia, where English teachers have been supported to use rap songs as a strategy for teaching sonnets (McFerran, 2014), or for strengthening connections between younger and older children in the school (Rickson & McFerran, 2014).

Although music therapists more often work with people who are identified as being at-risk, systematic reviews of primary violence prevention programs have shown that working universally (Gordon, 1983) with mixed-groups of boys and girls may be more powerful than targeting those likely to be violent (Jewkes, et al., 2014). Engaging young people through mainstream music might provide a powerful way of stimulating discussions in mixed groups, since a large proportion of mainstream media reflects the kinds of gendered stereotypes that need challenging (Veltre & Hadley, 2011). Similarly, using music videos that illustrate the objectification of women or the sexualisation of girls would undoubtedly stimulate energised debate. Program facilitators would need to be prepared to work carefully with challenging these stereotypes however, since it is likely that diverse views will be evoked. Rather than remaining in the abstract world of critical discussion, it may be more powerful to write original songs with mixed groups of young people as a way to represent an equitable future they want to be a part of. The use of song writing with young people to voice aspirations for the future has been reported (Viega & MacDonald, 2011) and is commonly documented in the song writing literature (Baker, 2015).

Violence prevention programs have been reported for both younger and older children, in primary and secondary school settings. Differing reports of effectiveness are presented in the literature, with a Cochrane review of school based secondary prevention programs reporting the effects as largely similar (Mytton, DiGuiseppi, Gough, Taylor, & Logan, 2009), whilst an earlier review found elementary school programs more effective (Howard, Flora, & Griffin, 1999). We suggest that the types of music activities that would be suitable for the different age groups would need to vary, since younger children may not be familiar with the kinds of aggressive or objectifying video and lyrical material that is more common in the mainstream adolescent circles. In addition, the verbal and critical thinking skills of younger children may be less well developed and therefore role-plays and active music making activities including improvisation might be more suitable. Working with the existing preferences of teenagers is likely to provide a motivating context for older students, and work by Priscilla Pek in Australia showed that a playlist creation project could stimulate interest and even be used as part of assessment in wellbeing programs (McFerran, 2015).

Evaluation of Programs

Our emphasis on alignment between beliefs about the cause of violence and the type of music therapy program that is recommended also has implications for evaluation. In order to determine whether the program has been successful it is necessary to design evaluation strategies that capture change in the right arena. This establishes a clear logic between causation, program design, and measurement. It would obviously be unsuitable to evaluate the usefulness of a program that aims to impact the broadest cultural systems by measuring change in the behaviour of individuals. Rickson and McFerran (2014) have proposed a model of evaluation of programs designed to build healthy music cultures in schools that is focused on values. We developed a strategy of gathering stories of significant change (Dart & Davies, 2003) from players in the school that could be categorised as illustrating mutuality, respect, empowerment and commitment.

Programs that focus on the development of positive relationships to repair early attachment issues face a number of challenges to enunciate measurable goals and to create sensitive research-designs for the evaluation of their impact. New research approaches with mixed methods combining quantitative outcome studies with qualitative process analysis are offering practicable perspective for future research. The evaluation of psychodynamic programs may also be grounded in observations of internal growth that are perceived by either the therapist or the client. This focus is endorsed by psychotherapy research that reveals that the three common therapeutic factors associated with change in individual therapy are: the quality of relationship between therapist and client; the therapist’s faith in their method; and external factors in the client’s life (Duncan, Miller, & Sparks, 2007). Our view is that it is necessary to have different instruments for practical evaluation while the programs are in process and for the research of the impact. For evaluation during the process, opportunities for active reflection are indispensable to analyse the different emphases of the program in process work. In addition, accompanying supervision is very important for analysing overlooked or unconscious aspects of the music therapists´ work.

If developing and rehearsing more positive attitudes and behaviours is the focus of the prevention program, then it is useful to capture improvements in behaviour, such as decreases in violent acts or increases in cooperation, empathy and helpfulness. (Nöcker-Ribaupierre & Wölfl, 2010; Wölfl, 2014). Wölfl and colleagues (2013, 2014) used several standardised tests and questionnaires to examine violence prevention programs by gathering the perspectives of both students and teachers. In addition, expert interviews and process analyses were used to examine and discuss the outcome of the comparison studies and to investigate factors in the process that cause different developments and research results. By using mixed research designs it may be possible to generate significant results by standardised quantitative measuring methods as well as differentiated insights about specific process factors of the program.

For a more extensive evaluation of the music therapeutic programs it is very important to use a differentiated framework for research. On the one hand it may be necessary to use standardized and generally accepted research instruments for measuring changes, to generate comparable results. On the other hand, we should recognise the danger of a domination of cognitive-behavioural beliefs in the case of standardized measuring methods. This means we also have to develop and use measurement instruments that are congruent to the aims of the programs, such as capturing change in relationships and psychological understandings that are not easy to objectively measure. Therefore we need both efforts in the direction of general and comparable outcome studies as well as in the investigation of our specific music therapeutic aims with congruent and complex evaluation instruments.

Combining various methods offers an array of possibilities for the design complex research approaches for the future.

Summary of Recommendations

In this position paper we have provided a raft of suggestions about issues to consider when designing programs for young people in the context of music and violence. These take into account beliefs about the cause of violence, research on relevant uses of music by young people, the dominant theoretical approach being adopted by the therapist, program aims and structure, as well as the types of participants best suited to the program. These have been summarised in Table 1. Our ability to see these distinctions has emerged through discussion about our diverse practices and a mutual respect for our differences. However, in sharing videos and audios of our programs, we can also see that there are many similarities between what we do, despite differences in the language we use to describe them. We suggest this is due to our shared commitment to offer unconditional positive regard for the young people with whom we work, which is congruent with a humanistic theoretical orientation (Abrams, 2014). This means that even in structured programs, we are flexible. Even in relational models that emphasise improvisation, we utilise everyday music choices. Even as we aspire to change oppressive systems, we attend empathically to the individual needs of the young people in our group programs. In fact, each of these programs looks more similar than they appear different and having distinguished between them, it may be more useful to integrate different ideas, rather than to always be restricted by one set of thinking.

The following points summarise our recommendations for considering the relationship between music and violence when working with young people.

In designing programs for aggressive young people:

  • Recognise and integrate existing music preferences into the session and collaborate with the young person to become conscious of links between music and priming.
  • Structure programs to reduce the risk of leaving sessions in a hyper-stimulated state that may lead to conflict with the needs of others outside the session.
  • Structure forms of music improvisation to offer a safe place for respectful interaction and creativity and to avoid overwhelming and worrying experiences.
  • Move between structured music making and free improvisation to increase the possibilities for young people to learn and exercise self-responsibility and spontaneous interaction.

In designing programs to reduce bullying:

  • Emphasise the use of music making, such as improvisation and song writing, which allow new behaviours to be experienced and rehearsed in a creative way.
  • Facilitate the integration of mainstream music preferences carefully since they likely represent sub-groups and lead to divisive behaviour.
  • Use and explain music improvisation as an unknown open space, where everyone gets their place and has the chance to meet one other equally and respectfully.

In designing programs to challenge controlling and dominating behaviours

  • Introduce critical appraisal of mainstream music that reinforces cultural norms that stereotype behaviours and underpin violence.
  • Work in partnership with teachers to integrate music into ongoing programs with mixed groups of young people to have greatest impact.

In summary, we consider that the prevention of violence requires individually tailored approaches that may focus on individuals, groups, or systemic approaches. Music therapy programs should be differentiated and congruent with the focus on the sector in which they are operating as well as the beliefs of the professional who is designing the program. Each of us needs to critically consider which approach is suitable and practicable in different situations, dependent on the needs identified in the school, the ongoing and daily dynamics and other fixed and fluid contextual aspects. The ideas we have presented provide a basis for this kind of reflection and for further methodical development, and we would hope that integrated approaches will emerge that transcend the differences we suggest but are informed by understandings of them. In this way, we hope to make a contribution towards the evolution of more mutually empowering relationships between young men and women who are better able to work together to create an equitable future.


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