“Being Alive”-Exploring Benefits of Musical Theatre with Music Therapy for Adolescents in Healthcare Settings

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Image of music therapist Nathan Mensah.

Adolescents have a wide variety of unique musical interests and preferences, including musical theatre. Teens who participate in musical theatre typically identify with these songs for many reasons, including finding themselves in the identity of the characters, and for the strong emotional resonance in songs. Musicals depict a wide variety of topics, including the emotional turbulence of the teenage experience. Many songs and repertoire involve strong feelings that other genres may not fully delve into. Musical theatre is, by its essence, comprised of songs so strong in emotional content that the characters must burst into song to even begin to express what they are experiencing. Hospitalization often yields very strong emotions, and a loss of autonomy and control, and a displacement of their sense of self. Musical theatre is beneficial in alleviating negative symptoms as it provides opportunities for healthy self-expression, sounding of oneself, and an ownership of self-esteem and identity.

It is a crucial privilege to help a patient reflect on their own identity as a musical being in and out of the therapeutic process. When a patient gets to share their story in song, they get to share their own way of sharing it and their preferred method to share it. This also provides them with an outlet to process their own feelings in the creative process. Musical theatre is unique in that the genre has many styles in itself, including rock musicals, hip-hop, classical, and jazz to name a few. Musical theatre repertoire is rich with years of story-based songs that many find strong connections too. Incorporation of musical theatre into music therapy practice comes with its own challenges, some of which have been identified in literature, but mostly through discussion of psychodrama and drama therapy using music. There are experiences that only music therapists are able to tap into, not with psychotherapy or psychodrama, but with the therapeutic process using music as a modality with the resource of musical theatre.

In this presentation, the four methods of music therapy will be used as starting points to learn how musical theatre can fit into one’s own music therapy practice. These concepts will be further investigated via case studies, instruction on facilitating experiences, and audio recordings. Participants will leave with an understanding of musical theatre in music therapy practice, ideas of repertoire to incorporate, strategies on how to include music technology, and tips on songwriting in this style.

Learner Objectives

Participants will identify at least three music therapy interventions to support adolescents in the healthcare setting.
CBMT Domain III. Treatment Implementation and Documentation, A. Implementation, 2. Provide individualized music therapy experiences to address client’s: c. abuse and trauma, g. affect, emotions, and moods, p. coping skills, r. depression, ff. musical and other creative responses, ss. Self-awareness and insight, ddd. Stress management.

Participants will expand their musicianship by identifying three elements of music to incorporate into their therapeutic process for a maximized therapeutic outcome.
CBMT Domain III. Treatment Implementation and Documentation, A. Implementation, 5. To achieve therapeutic goals, a. apply a variety of scales, modes, and harmonic progressions, c. apply the elements of music (e.g., melody, harmony, rhythm), i. utilize a varied music repertoire (e.g., blues, pop, metal, hip-hop) from a variety of cultures and eras, l. l. utilize song and lyric analysis, m. utilize songwriting, x. integrate current technology and interactive media.

Participants will consider appropriate demographics and best clinical situations when to use music therapy musical theatre interventions for patients.
CBMT Domain II. Referral, Assessment, Interpretation of Assessment and Treatment Planning, D. Treatment Planning, 2. Consider the following in the treatment decision-making process: c. values, preferences, and interests of clients, families, and caregivers. 9. Consider client’s age, culture, language, music background, and preferences when designing music therapy experiences.

Presenter Biography

Nate currently provides services at Yale in the pediatric setting and HHC with adults and adolescents in the psychiatric/substance abuse setting. He also teaches music courses at SCSU and SMWC.