Exploring the Response of 5th-Year Medical Students to Music Therapy

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Image of music therapist Carol Lotter

“While medical students devote their lives to the science of helping others, all too often the stress of insurmountable study demands, sleep deprivation, the pressure of student loans, and social isolation makes campus life a struggle” (SADAG, 2017). This quote underpinned a call from the South African Depression and Anxiety Group to urgently attend to psycho-social support for medical students, emphasizing that these factors can lead to student drop-out, high levels of stress, substance abuse, and even the risk of suicide attempts.

To this end a study was designed which aimed to explore a) the individual response of 5th-year medical students to group music therapy during their psychiatry rotation in a South African private mental health setting; b) the potential of music therapy to offer psycho-social support to medical students in training and c) how students articulate their need for psycho-social support within the context of their training. The participants selected for the study were invited to attend once-off group music therapy sessions, comprising drumming exercises and a guided imagery experience through live song and improvisation. Each session was attended by a different group of students. 11 sessions were held over a 3 month period, with a total of 100 participants.

This presentation reports on the findings of the analysis of the questionnaires which were completed by participants at the conclusion of each session. The findings include i) participant expectations of music therapy, ii) the experience of stress in daily student life, iii) perceived personal benefits of music therapy, iv) perceived benefits of music as a therapeutic tool in mental health, and v) students’ need for psycho-social support.

We believe that this presentation is applicable to international music therapists in various settings due to the fact that medical studies are very demanding the world over. Medical students experience high levels of stress, and because of time and other pressures, including limited access to psycho-social support services, the personal mental health of students seems not to be prioritized. This presentation will create awareness around student mental health issues, as well as discuss how music therapy could play a role in the psycho-social support of students.

Learner Objectives

a) Highlight issues associated with medical students’ mental health
b) Understanding the methodology of a specific group music therapy intervention
c) Music therapy as a psycho-social intervention for medical student support

Presenters’ Biographies

Carol Lotter: Ph.D., University of Pretoria; BMGIM fellow (AMI) and registered with the Health Professions Council of South Africa. Carol is the coordinator of the Arts Therapies division and co-director of the MMus (Music Therapy) program at the University of Pretoria. Her teaching focus is clinical studies and supervision, and her primary clinical and research interest is in adult mental health.

Karen de Kock holds an MMus (Music Therapy) degree, is registered with the HPCSA, and is a qualified GIM fellow. Karen has worked in the areas of intellectual and physical disability and currently works in the area of adult mental health. Karen is a lecturer and supervisor for the MA Drama Therapy program at Wits University and the MMus (Music Therapy) training program at the University of Pretoria.