mental health

How Music Therapy Interventions Can Address the Culture of Bullying

In recent years, the conversation on how to curb bullying has been fruitful and productive. However, it remains a persistent phenomenon today, especially among children.

Bullying involves acts showing hostile intent predicated on power imbalance, which takes different forms like provocation and intimidation. A recent study from the National Center for Education Statistics found that one in five students between ages 12 and 18 have experienced bullying. The study also found that the intimidation tactics have increasingly taken the form of online or text harassment—around 15% of bullied students have reportedly experienced this.

Bully prevention strategies are crucial for schools and other supposedly safe spaces where children learn. The act of being bullied leads to stress, distress, and anxiety. Researchers from King's College London in the United Kingdom even uncovered that bullying has long-term effects on children. The study found that children who experience bullying have higher risks of mental health illnesses and hampered brain development. Indeed, Maryville University highlights that there are fundamental connections between mental health and learning abilities, and the two affect each other in more ways than we realize. Bullying has many long-term impacts, and chief among them is how it can impair a child’s capacity to learn.

Music as a prevention strategy

Bullying is a complex issue, especially with children. It encompasses the social, economic, structural, and psychological dimensions of upbringing. As a social relationship, bullying is harmful both for the victim as well as the bully. This is why prevention strategies being used are often intertwined and comprehensive.

A landmark study from the University of Minnesota in 2013 found that music therapy can be used as an effective intervention for both bullies and victims. While the longitudinal study focused on gender-based bullying, it showed how exposure to music and interaction mediated by instruments helped in easing negative dynamics among children. By exposing them to feminine-masculine types of music and instruments, the music therapy improved peer relations and self-management.

How does it work?

Music therapy is widely prescribed for many use cases. From pain management and anxiety relief to helping reduce the impacts of trauma and helping recovery, music therapy is seen as an effective alternative mediation for many conditions. As an intervention strategy, music therapy works towards multiple goals including cultivating social skills, regulating emotions, and diffusing toxic behaviors. It can also help children adjust after their non-structured summer vacation, when it’s time to go back to class again.

Music helps children develop their self-expression and socialization process. This is why it’s effective in directing and shaping social behaviors. For reducing bullying behaviors, music therapy is targeted at taking out aggressive behaviors and dis-incentivizing cliques. Psychologists from the University of Pretoria subjected students to music therapy and measured the changes in aggressive behaviors among students. The study found that music intervention, elicitations like drumming and song writing in particular—are effective in decreasing hostile behaviors. 

Choosing a method

One of the key characteristics of music therapy as an intervention is its flexibility. It’s an inexpensive but efficient way to deal with multiple goals including reducing bullying behaviors. Choosing an apt method would entail extensive goal setting in reducing bully behavior at school.

When used for children, music therapy often contain elements that are familiar to the students. More passive methods like music reminiscence and stimulation can encourage relaxation and socializing. Meanwhile, more active methods are more targeted. Singalong is a highly social method as it encourages participation in a collective setting. It’s a fun way to let them create more trust towards their peers.

Song writing and learning instruments are more advanced methods. By way of teaching skills, children learn introspection and benefit from peer learning. Incorporating classmate feedback sessions can encourage openness among children.

The potential of music therapy as an effective anti-bullying intervention program hinges on its impact on children’s overall development. The culture of bullying won’t go away in a flash, but the active engagement of children against it can be done one note at a time.

Exclusively written for MewsicMoves.Com

By: Leila Alayna

John Mews, Owner, Founder and Neurologic Music Therapist at Mewsic Moves is also trained in a social and emotional skill building drum facilitation program, “Beat The Odds® ” that utilizes drumming and rhythm to help children, teens as well as adult to connect to one another, improve attention, reduce anxiety and improve social skills throughout greater Los Angeles.

In this program development, researchers at UCLA have shown that,

Beat the Odds® can significantly improve a spectrum of behavior problems in children, such as inattention, withdrawn/depression, post traumatic stress, anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity, oppositional defiance, and sluggish cognitive tempo (Ho, Tsao, Bloch, & Zeltzer, 2011).

For more information on Beat the Odds® go to: https://uclartsandhealing.org/services/professional-development/beat-the-odds-drumming-program/

I also want to extend a special thank you to Leila Alayna for this special guest blog article.

Lets Be Social

What is Your Brain Doing During Music Therapy?

hand draws brain sign

A review of a recent case study on how the brain reacts to music therapy. 


“For the first time researchers have been able to demonstrate that the brains of a patient and therapist become synchronized during a music therapy session, a breakthrough that could improve future interactions between patients and therapists.” 

On July 25, 2019, a new study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. It was the first research that utilized a procedure called hyperscanning in music therapy research, which allowed researchers to better understand the interaction between two people by recording brain activities in both brains at the same time. 


Both EEG (electroencephalogram) and video recording were used to capture data of the session from both the therapist and the client in a guided imagery and music session. GIM music therapist guided the client through an “imaginary journey” while incorporating music listening and images to elicit memories, emotions, and feelings from the client, and to help the client understand life issues. 


In this dyadic case study, the goal was to engage the client in a supportive music experience while discussing strong emotions. A series of classical music was played during the session while the client shared and discussed issues and concerns in her life. The researchers specifically looked for the “moment of interest” which was defined as a therapeutically important moment. Brain synchronization was observed through brain scan and video recordings during moments of interest. During one of the moments of interest, the brain scan showed that the client experienced a shift of emotion from negative to positive, which shortly followed by a similar shift in the therapist. The researchers concluded that the client and the therapist truly connected during the session, and such a therapeutic setting provided a safe environment to work on negative emotions, fear, anxiety, etc. 

This study marks a milestone in music therapy research by demonstrating the brain synchronization between a patient and a music therapist during a music therapy session. It allowed us to see what "moment of change" looks like inside the brain. The findings could set the foundation on understanding emotional processing in therapeutic interactions, and determining the effectiveness of music therapy in psychodynamic settings. 

Original Source

Jörg C. Fachner, Clemens Maidhof, Denise Grocke, Inge Nygaard Pedersen, Gro Trondalen, Gerhard Tucek, Lars O. Bonde. “Telling me not to worry…” Hyperscanning and Neural Dynamics of Emotion Processing During Guided Imagery and MusicFrontiers in Psychology, 2019; 10 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01561


Let’s Be Social

Music is a Companion: Music Therapy and Mental Health Awareness

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In my 15 years of work as a music therapist I have supported many clients who struggle on a daily basis with mental health challenges depression and anxiety to mention a few. Many of clients throughout Los Angeles share the same story of feeling isolated, alone and like no one understands. Others also share the immense levels of shame and stigma that accompany these psychological mental health diagnoses. In my sessions I open up a safe space where each can share their experiences and stories of these intense feelings of embarrassment, shame and even stigmas that they face (many by their own family members!).

Just this past week in a music therapy mental health support group I encouraged clients to create a list of musical artists that they were aware of that lives with mental health condition(s) and shares it openly and publicly. This sparked a huge discussion around the topic and led us to share songs that reflected mental health awareness tat were either written or performed by these specific individual artists.

Musical artists that came to mind for most of the group members were artists such as: Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato, Eminem, Macklemore, Pink, and Kesha just to name a few. We then shared specific songs and discussed the artists realness about their mental health struggles in their songs and lyrics. Many clients shared, not only did they connect to the artists and their lyrics but that the music was also a “companion” for them when they felt like “no one was around” or “like no one understood”. One client shared,

“when I was all alone and depressed I would listen to Kesha and felt like she was there with me; through her lyrics I knew she understood and therefore helped me with my loneliness and knowing others do understand”.

May being mental health awareness month, I am grateful to so many music artists (as well as other public figures) that step into vulnerability and share the truth about their own mental health challenges. This place of vulnerability and sharing as Brene Brown speaks of in all her social platforms and books is pure “courage” and helping others to connect and not feel alone in their time of hardship.

If you feel alone, or like no one else understands please find solace in some others stories and music that many artists have shared. And furthermore, allow music to be that therapy in your life during during this difficult time. Find below a short list of songs that clients have shared this week in honor of mental health awareness and how music and many artists are shedding light, awareness and education.

If you are experiencing and forms of mental health challenges please do not hesitate to reach out to local therapists and or treatment centers, we are here for you. This is not a time to give into shame or embarrassment as majority of people struggle on a daily basis with mental health challenges and you do not need to do this alone. "You are not alone”.

Some songs clients chose that reflect Mental Health Awareness:

Throughout mental health awareness month we will be posting a song each day on our facebook page that reflects mental health awareness in music. Let music be your therapy, guide and your companion. Please feel free to share some of your songs as well in the comments below or on our social media platforms. We love to share and connect through music.

Let’s Be Social:

Banner Photo by OC Gonzalez on Unsplash

Music Therapy and Mental Health: A Form of Treatment

Music puzzle

Music Therapy

& Mental Health Awareness

In most of my music therapy groups this week I dedicated time away from engaging in music but rather to engage in conversations around music and mental health since May is mental health awareness month. I know some of you just gasped and thought, how dare a music therapist do a session without engaging in music !  Well, I did and it was quite powerful!

In most of the sessions the clients were engaged in some deep and emotional discussions around music in our culture and artists that have contributed a great deal to our music as art; many from their own experiences with mental health challenges.

Artists names such as Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Britney Spears, and so many others came to surface. Clients shared that these artists music has touched their lives in so many ways over the years of their personal struggles with mental health issues. Some have expressed, “It was the only thing that got me through” while others expressed “It was a relief to know that I was not alone”.

Client's have described these songs as being a "source of strength in times of adversity". I encouraged the clients to share songs from artists who gave them words of encouragement that in turn were also dealing with similar mental health challenges.

Music in all forms has been therapeutic for centuries and I want to highlight that even though many of these artists songs are therapeutic I want to honor and thank them that they had the courage to step into vulnerability and share their hurt and challenges through words and song with us. These artists shared personal stories in their songs that continue to support, validate and help many of the clients that I work with in our music therapy groups. 

This month let's recognize that much of the music we listen to on a daily basis very likely has been a form of music therapy for the individual artists themselves. Its been a way for them to share their story, their pain and help support others along their journey. That's the beauty in music and creativity -- it can often come from pain but then transform into something beautiful and powerful, similar to the Eminem song, “Beautiful Pain”. 

I encourage you to share your story, share your song, share your art and help others find comfort and peace and normalize that mental health issues are real and we can shed some light in the darkness.

Find a list of songs below that clients have chosen in music therapy groups throughout the month that were created and performed from artists that too have struggled with mental illness. This is just a small representation of the many artists out there that struggle and have used their voices and creativity as an outlet, a way to help heal others and help empower their listeners from not feeling alone in their experiences with mental health challenges. (click on song titles to view the video)

  1. Britney Spears - Stronger 

  2. Eminem - The Monster

  3. Amy Winehouse - Back to Black

  4. Natalie Grant - The Real Me

  5. Demi Lovato - Skyscraper

  6. Alessia Cara - Scars to Your Beautiful

  7. Macklemore - Otherside

  8. Lady Gaga - Perfect Illusion

  9. Rachel Platten - Fight Song

  10. Justin Bieber - Love Yourself

Do you have other songs that you could add to this list? If so, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a link to the video or artist below in the comment section. Thank you. #musicandmentalhealth

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