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Music Therapy Through the Lifespan: Teenagers and Young Adults

By Miranda Murphy, MTBC

Hello again, everyone! Welcome back to our exploration of Music Therapy and its integration to assist throughout one’s life. Today, we explore adolescence and what comes along with becoming an “adult.” Despite being a relatively short part of our lives, the teenage years manifest the beginnings of who we will become and what we want to be. 

Continuing the Quest for Self-Understanding

As we explored in our child development post, goals such as self-regulation, communication, and social skills remain a focus. As children age, they begin to develop their coping methods. Adolescents tend to struggle to fully process and express their exact feelings to peers and family members. A teen’s coping skills also alter and shift over time. In previous stressful situations, a child may have curled up in a quiet room, which solved their overstimulation. However, as a teen, that coping skill does not fully satisfy their emotional need. 

Me Versus the World

I often refer to this stage of life as the “no one understands me” phase. This is an era of feeling isolated, especially from family members. It is very easy to forget the first time we experienced the beginnings of love lost, managing feelings of self-doubt, and genuinely trying to figure out who we are. This is a time of things feeling inescapable because nothing else like this has ever happened. 

Where does Music therapy come into all of this? Within a therapy session with teens, we often explore lyrics, analyzing (talking about perceived meaning in the lyrics), and songwriting. Songwriting is especially helpful as it allows for emotional and self-expression with or without the use of words. A created song made in session can always be explored or worked on at a later date.  Music on its own helps to create a space where teens can feel heard and understood. Music Therapy provides spaces that allow teens to feel heard and free from persecution and judgment.

Maladaptive Coping Skills

Teens often turn to various actions to manage their emotions. This can lead teens dealing with mental illness or feelings of isolation to turn to dangerous activities. This is where we observe behaviors such as self-harm and drug abuse. Addiction is not an illness that magically presents itself in people. It often begins with using substances to alter their personal state in one way or another. This sensation of feeling misunderstood and stuck can lead further into trying to separate themselves from their issues and their entire self. 

Music allows individuals to speak to personal pain and struggles to understand why they might feel the way they do. We often hear how music can reach people who struggle to find their own words or to find stories they feel they relate to. These song-based stories create a gateway for the releasing of previous guilt from traumas and managing unrealistic thoughts from anxiety and depression. Incorporating something familiar can allow for a safer environment for sharing and being honest about personal struggles. 

Adaptive Living Skills

Along with the struggles of ever-changing bodies, social lives, and emotions, having a disability can amplify these struggles immensely. When clinicians focus on a client's highest possible level of functioning, the more beneficial progressive treatment can be. Music Therapy allows for incorporating motor, social, and communication skills and other goals within this age range. Going to one therapy or another is fairly common and familiar for teens with a diagnosis, but music allows for more creative/explorative therapy. This means a music therapist focuses not only on development delays/adaptive needs but also on the overall mental well-being of a client. Teens often feel they lack control over their own lives. Music Therapy creates a space where they have control within a safe, curated environment. 

As quoted from the musical A Chorus Line, teens live in a world where they are “Too young to take over; Too old to ignore”. 

Teen’s needs and feelings are integral to who they will become. The issue may appear dramatic and unnecessary to someone who has already experienced this time, but this is their first trip out into the world. Let’s allow them the space to learn and better themselves.

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