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Empathy and Aggression

drums on sand

The American Music Therapy Association published two peer-reviewed journals. Music Therapy Perspectives tends to be more clinically based. If you are able to access Oxford University Press online, you may be able to read these journals! One the more interesting studies I’ve read recently is from the most recent Perspectives and focuses on empathy and aggression in teenagers. It is a phenomenological study so is more about describing experiences than to “prove” the efficacy of a particular treatment or intervention. These students had been referred to music therapy because of their aggressive behavior towards staff and other students. The students had themselves experienced violence, abuse, and neglect. Sometimes being aware of other’s pain and distress increased their aggression towards them. They often felt a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness in their lives. Their area continued to experience socio-economic hardships due to decades of segregation and discriminatory practices. Music therapy sessions were improvisatory and percussion based. They worked to developed trust and group cohesion. They worked on expressing anger in less destructive ways. As time went on, they were able to take leadership of the sessions but also to share that leadership between the members of the group. For me personally, the potentially negative consequences of empathy were an eye opener. It is also important to be aware of the long-standing effects of trauma on our clients.

For more information read “Empathy and Aggression in Group Music Therapy with Teenagers: a Descriptive Phenomenological Study” Music Therapy Perspectives vol 37, no. 1.

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