Using Music Therapy to Heal Troubled Teens

Answering Parents' Basic Questions About Using Music Therapy for Teenagers

Music therapy is a creative therapeutic approach to helping troubled teens through the use of songs and sounds. It is a medium that teens tend to gravitate to naturally, so it can be very effective. This form of therapy offers a unique way to work with teens that draws on the many healing aspects of music.  

What Is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is one of many expressive therapies that can help troubled teens.

Through it, they can gain self-understanding and learn better ways to cope with their lives.

  • Music therapy uses music and songs as therapeutic tools to help teens heal by encouraging self-expression and self-awareness. 
  • A music therapist is trained to help a teen deal with troubling problems or behaviors through the use of music. 

Music is used in various ways. Teens may be asked to write songs, listen to the lyrics of specific songs or discuss how certain music changes the way they feel.

  • Teens often discover that the words in popular songs express their own feelings and experiences that they cannot express themselves.
  • Teens tend to gravitate to music that describes what they are feeling and what is important to them.

How Music Therapy Can Help a Troubled Teen

  • Singing along with the lyrics of a song can provide a healthy release of painful or difficult emotions.
  • Soothing music can help an anxious teen relax.
  • Discussing the violent lyrics of a song can help an angry teen express his rage.
  • Upbeat music can help a depressed teen improve her mood.
  • Writing new lyrics to a song can help identify the reasons for feelings of sadness.

FAQs About Music Therapy for Teens

The following is an interview with Davida Price, a certified music therapist.

It will answer many of the questions that parents have about music therapy and their teen.

Davida Price, IMF, MT-BC is a board certified music therapist and marriage and family therapist intern in San Diego, California. She is the founder of Bliss Music Therapy, a program that helps teens using a unique approach she refers to as "rock- and-roll therapy."

Q: How do you use rock and roll music to help teens heal?

A: It is a therapy approach for teens in which traditional psychotherapy is used for verbal exploration and music is used to explore the unconscious, and as a different form of expression. 

I've developed this approach from working with teens in psychiatric hospitals and learning the various positive ways teens respond to music. Teens identify with music and can be very expressive through the use of songs and musical instruments.

Q: So music is the primary tool you use to help teens express and explore what they're feeling inside?

A: In many ways music defines teens, it is a type of language for them and music choices often determine which peers they hang out with. 

Music has numerous restorative powers; it can get inside their personality and interests and can be a very emotional experience.


Research shows that music affects every part of the brain, including our emotions and the brain chemicals transmitting information throughout the body.

Q: How do you actually use music therapy to help teens?

A: The therapy I do is a combination of talking, songwriting and learning to play various musical instruments, such as the guitar or piano. 

I'll ask a teen how they are feeling; let's say the answer is they feel depressed. Then I ask them to describe this feeling as a color or metaphor, perhaps they say it's yellow, or it's like living in a cave. Then we explore this colorful language and it unfolds into song lyrics and music.


Here's another example: I might direct a teen to imagine the music as a wave gathering up their sorrow, then carrying it away when it retreats.

Q: How would you use music to help a troubled teen going through a difficult time?

A: There are several ways. It can be a device they use to feel better. 

For example, I often help teens develop their own 'theme song,' a song they create that defines who they are. It can be listened to if they are feeling sad or need to boost their self-esteem

Or perhaps a teen is angry about a situation. He could write a song, sing the song, or add music to the lyrics. Then he could rip it into shreds as a way to express his anger or as a way to get rid of some of that anger.

Q: Can a teen participate in this type of therapy if they have no musical background?

A: Most teens are very involved with listening to music but they don't need to play any instruments to participate in music therapy. I color code various instruments to make it easy to refer to them and then I very simply show a teen how to make the sound they want to make. 

On the guitar I would show a teen where to put their fingers on the neck of the guitar and then they just have to strum. And I will also sometimes play an instrument with them, providing the "glue" to hold it all together, I help guide them to create the music that reflects how they're feeling or what they want to say.

Q: Do you work with teens using music in individual or group therapy settings?

A: I do both. In a group situation there is often a shared sense of accomplishment about the music that's created. 

In working with a teen one on one there are more opportunities to talk about specific emotions and work with them in the colorful language of music, as well as creating their own music.

Q: In what other ways can music therapy help a troubled teen?

A: It can be used to help resolve conflicts and as a way to help a teen feel accepted for being who they are. Creating music can also be a metaphor for learning how to live. 

As an example, learning how to make music is a step-by-step process that builds on itself, in much the same way that a life is built.

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