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 Six SRU music therapy majors share findings at conference 




Oct. 9, 2009
CONTACT: Kelly Snow
University Public Relations Intern


Six SRU music therapy majors share findings at conference

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. -Working with adolescents 15-21 years old in a New Castle detention center as part of their clinical work, six Slippery Rock University students have seen firsthand how music therapy can bring about changes in lives of young people and will now share their findings at the sixth annual Mid-Atlantic Passages Conference in New York.

            The Oct. 24 conference, hosted by the American Music Therapy Association, will be at Nazareth College. A variety of other universities and colleges will participate, including New York University, Temple, Immaculata, Montclair State, Radford, Hahneman, Howard, Shenandoah,SUNY Fredonia, SUNY New Paltz and Duquesne universities, and Molloy and Elizabethtown colleges. 

The AMTA is an organization thatworks to increase the public's awareness of the benefits of music therapy as well as toprovide access to valuable music therapy services.

The conference is for students and new professionals in the Mid-Atlantic region of the AMTA to congregate and share the work they have conducted.

SRU music therapy seniorspresenting a panel at the conference will beMichelle Bonaventura from Pittsburgh, Andrea Follmar from Coraopolis, Vern Miller from Slippery Rock, Emily Ressler from Palmyra, Corinne Woolley from Easton and Kathryn Eberle from Butler. The students completed work at the detention center as part of the clinical experience requirement in their major.

"The students were able to work with individuals in order to teach them a more healthy way to express their emotions as opposed to the kind of behaviors that they indulged in that resulted in their detention,"said Susan Hadley, SRU assistant professor of music therapy.

            Hadley explains the aim of music therapy is to engage with people to help them gain important life skills.

"Some people need to learn to express their emotions in a healthier way and music is an obvious way to do that," Hadley said.

Joanne Echement, the activities coordinator for the detention center, supervised the adolescents while the six SRU students conducted sessions with the group.

"Music therapy with this population has given us just as much as it has given them. It gives you so much as a person just to be exposed to this population, to this environment. I don't know if I've had a clinical experience like this every semester, something that was this deep," said Bonaventura.

"Personally this opened up to me that maybe this is a population that I might want to work with. It's a population that I really enjoyed, and it's not something I would've thought of before this experience," Miller said.

Similarly, Woolley, said her experience with this population has influenced her to consider working with individuals in similar situations.

Throughout their sessions, group members noticed differences in behavior among many of the adolescents. Millersaid one of the developments he noticed among the individuals was their willingness to share and to open themselves emotionally.

             "Another transition they made was owning up to their past and that came out in the songs that they were writing," he said.

            Follmar said it was quite an achievement to see the detainees start to trust and rely on other people.

            "At first, there was definitely a leader in the group and several others were comfortable to let that person be the focus. As time went on, and others were encouraged and given time to lead and to conduct, you saw less engaged individuals become leaders," she said.

            Follmar also said another instance when the group was collectively writing a song and one individual, who always refrained from participating, was suddenly motivated to contribute.

"We were writing a song, and we were asking what they were looking forward to on leaving the facility and this individual responded he was looking forward to closing his own door, and we incorporated that into the song," Follmar said.

Woolley explained the ways in which they used music to connect with the adolescents. One tactic used was lyric analysis.

             "Lyric analysis is taking the words in a song and applying them to you in that moment in your life or applying them to the songwriter and wondering what the lyrics meant to the writer," Woolley said.

            Ressler revealed other methods the group used. She said the use of drums, in an activity called a "Drum Circle," encouraged the adolescents to kindly relate to one other.

            "We just gave them time to solo in the drum circle, and they said something nice about the person on their left; then we switched and they said something nice about the person on their right," Ressler said.

            In addition to drum circles, brainstorming techniques were used in order for the adolescents to gain focus. Eberledescribed how the individuals were given blank sheets of paper and colored pencils so they could write down things that came to mind while they listened.

            "While they were listening to the music,they wrote down anything that came to mind or drew pictures about the songs they had picked," Eberle said.


Story by: Kelly Snow, a senior communication major from Grove City and an intern in the SRU University Public Relations Office.


Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.

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