Music therapy benefits youth at risk

Published: 28 November 2012 at 13:15

Anglia Ruskin PhD researcher to present findings of first ever quantitative study

The first ever study to show the quantitative benefits of music therapy for teenagers at secondary school will be discussed at a conference at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge on Friday, 30 November.

Philippa Derrington, who carried out the research over a period of 19 months at The Cottenham Academy in Cambridgeshire, will present her findings at a two-day conference focusing on music and drama therapy.

Her study investigated whether music therapy can improve the emotional well being of adolescents at risk of exclusion or underachievement.  Specifically, it addressed music therapy’s impact on students’ self-esteem, anxiety, attitude towards learning, behaviour and relationships with peers.

Derrington, whose study has formed part of her current PhD research at Anglia Ruskin supervised by Dr Amelia Oldfield and Professor Helen Odell-Miller, is a full-time music therapist at The Centre School, a special school for students with emotional and behavioural difficulties, and part of The Cottenham Academy.  

Music therapy provides a framework for students to use music spontaneously and creatively as a means of self-expression.  The “Music Therapy Garage” at The Cottenham Academy has drum kits, guitars, percussion and microphones, and is a place where pupils can play and explore their feelings through improvised and recorded music.

A mixed methods design was used to observe the changes in students before and after music therapy.  Quantitative data was collected from students, teaching staff and school records on four occasions during the study as well as qualitative data from interviews with the students before and after their block of music therapy.

The study found that music therapy made a positive difference to the 22 students who took part from both the mainstream and special school.  There was a 95% attendance rate for music therapy sessions, which Derrington describes as “remarkable because sessions were not compulsory and these young people tend to vote with their feet so their attendance in itself is credit to their commitment and motivation to use music”.

The majority of students (56%) reported an improvement in their self-esteem and 58% of the 66 teachers surveyed believed their pupils’ social development and overall attitude to learning had improved after music therapy intervention. 

Without being prompted, 41% of students felt that they were socialising more as a result of music therapy and 56% of mainstream students who took part felt that their concentration had improved, which had a positive impact on their attitude in lessons. 

Derrington, who has previously taught on the MA in Music Therapy course at Anglia Ruskin, said:

“All teenagers relate to music and are actively interested in it as a way of communicating with their peers and socially identifying themselves.  
“The stereotype of a moody, monosyllabic and dreamy teenager is usually replaced by creative, communicative and dynamic play when music is the means of expression. There are a number of ways of engaging teenagers in music therapy including a varied use of improvised and recorded music.  
“This study has shown that music therapy can reduce anxiety, increase a student’s self-esteem and helps to reduce disruptive behaviour.  If subsequent studies prove the benefits of music therapy on a wider scale, then I believe there is certainly a case for it to be made available in secondary schools across the UK.”

Derrington’s research, which was funded by The Music Therapy Charity, was in collaboration with The Cottenham Academy, Anglia Ruskin University and the Institute of Education in London. 

The study has been replicated by music therapist Louise Neale at a learning centre in Eastleigh, Hampshire, through the music therapy service Key Changes and further data will be collected as the project is run in other educational settings.