Can Music Be Used For The Treatment Of Bereaved Children?

20 Nov

Bereavement, or loss of a loved one, can be a traumatic event to children.   Does music hold therapeutic applications in the treatment of bereavement and grief?  And if so, how?

Russell Hilliard at Floria State University recruited eighteen participants, ranging from the ages of 6 to 11, to be used for this study on bereavement and music therapy.  All of the participants had lost a loved one within the past 2 years.  Hilliard used several devices to measure bereavement conditions throughout the study.  The Behavior Rating Index for Children (BRIC) was conducted in two environments: at home with parents, and at school with teachers.  The BRIC evaluates behavioral problems.  Additionally, the Depressive Self-Rating Scale (DSRS) was used to evaluate the depressive conditions of the participants.  Parents and guardians were also asked to use the Bereavement  Group Questionnaire (BP) to help identify any grief syndromes in their children.

The subjects participated in 8 group music therapy sessions that were held during the day.  Sessions lasted 1 hour and included various music activities such as singing, song-writing, rap-writing, rhythmic improvisation, drumming, lyric analysis, and music listening.  Each sessions had an overarching theme that informed the children on how to cope with loss.  For example session 2 contained information about the death process, while session 5  helped the subjects identify the causes of anger that resulted from their loss.  After the eight sessions were completed, several post tests were administrated to re-evaluate the depressive conditions of the subjects.

The results were startling.  The additional post tests confirmed that music can alleviate depressive conditions.  Of the subjects who were diagnosed with depression before music therapy, only 25% remained depressed after the sessions.  Other grief conditions were seen to diminish by 40%. However, there was no statistical change in the participant’s behavior at school or in self rated depression tests.

Hilliard’s study is profound.  A vast amount of music therapy literature involves qualitative accounts, but as Hilliard skillfully employs in this study, the use of quantitative analysis such as pre and post tests might grant deeper insight into the benefits of using music as a method of treatment.  Hilliard concludes that future research should be conducted with this in mind.

Hilliard, R.E. (2001). The effect of music therapy-based bereavement groups on mood and behavior of grieving children: A pilot study. Journal of Music Therapy, 38(4), 291-306.


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