Music Therapy: An Innovative Response to Domestic Violence

The Michael Bolton Charities (MBC) in partnership with Clifford Beers Clinic, New Horizons School for Higher Achievement and BH Care-Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence, has launched an innovative music therapy program for children and women exposed to domestic violence. 

This two-pronged program has been developed as a one-of-a-kind model. The goal is to run an effective pilot program, with outcomes evaluated and assessed, that can be replicated across the State of Connecticut and beyond. The music therapy program is underway:

  • In a New Haven school (New Horizons) which has been identified as having a population of students experiencing domestic violence, physical violence and mental abuse, operated by a certified music therapist.
  • For mothers and children living in a domestic violence confidential shelter under the BH Care-Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence.

Additionally, there are plans to provide music therapy to mothers and children accessing services at The New Haven Family Justice Center (FJC), which will be a one-stop center of critical services for domestic violence victims and their families under one roof.

Responding to Need

In Connecticut, during a 24-hour period, domestic violence hotlines average more than 8 calls every hour, more than 300 domestic violence victims find refuge in emergency shelters or transitional housing, more than 500 adults and children receive critical support services and more than 100 requests for services go unmet due to lack of resources. In New Haven alone, there are more than 150 reported cases of domestic violence and abuse each week.

Following extensive research, The Michael Bolton Charities concluded that a music therapy program for children exposed to domestic violence can and will provide a powerful and critical tool in the healing process for domestic violence victims. The MBC believes this is a significant, promising and ground-breaking approach and opportunity, and extraordinary partners were identified that shared an interest in collaborating to pursue this innovative and potentially impactful approach.

Extending Music Therapy

A well-established health care profession, music therapy uses carefully selected music and music interventions to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs. While music therapy will not cure or solve problems brought on by crisis, music therapy can help children and adults in crisis learn and use positive coping skills and express difficult feelings and emotions. Because music therapy is a powerful and non-invasive medium, unique outcomes are possible.

The goal of The MBC in creating such a program for children (and their mothers) exposed to domestic violence is to bring the positive potential of this unique therapy to bear on the often enduring effects of domestic violence. Through the use of interactive, client-preferred music, individuals participating in music therapy services will have opportunities to address their individualized needs, such as to address and cope with their feelings related to abuse or violence.

New Horizons School for Higher Achievement

In the program initiative, the music therapist works in collaboration with an assigned social worker in New Horizons in New Haven, an alternative school for students ages 14-21 who have been identified by New Haven’s two area high schools and social service agencies as “high risk”.

Cyd Slotoroff, MT-BC is a Board Certified Music Therapist, Arts Educator and Diversity Trainer and Performing Artist. In operating the program, she sets goals on an individual and group basis, and selects specific activities and exercises to help achieve individual progress. Objectives may include development of communication, cognitive, motor, emotional, and social skills.

The techniques of music therapy used can include learning to play an instrument, singing, composition, listening, mindfulness using music, instrument making, chorus, creative movement, chorus, and recording of original works.

New Horizons, a New Haven public school, has developed a comprehensive program that focuses on academic achievement coupled with the need to treat and teach trauma exposed students as well as provide wraparound supports for every student. Domestic violence has been a presence in the lives of many students, often a learned behavior that is modeled, rewarded, and supported by families and/or the broader culture.

The highly skilled research team at Clifford Beers Clinic is designing the intake process and evaluation measures. Obtaining comprehensively insights on the program from different perspective (participants, musical therapist, social worker, and teachers) provides information on where the program can be improved and how it can best be replicated in other settings.

Clifford Beers is a mental health clinic serving children and families in the Greater New Haven area. CBC has a well-deserved reputation for implementing innovative projects that begin to address the complexity of trauma from a systems perspective, leading to the creation of a trauma-informed system of care, which seeks to understand the connection between presenting symptoms and behaviors linked to the trauma history.

BH Care-Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence Services (UCDVS)

BH Care-Umbrella Center for Domestic Violence Services is creating a music therapy program for children and women exposed to domestic violence as a component of The MBC initiative.

The Center is dedicated to increasing awareness of domestic violence and its effect on the community, empowering those victimized by providing advocacy and safe and effective services, and to working for social change to eliminate domestic violence. UCDVS believes that all persons have the right to live free from violence and fear, especially in their own homes.

UCDVS provides services to residents in Greater New Haven, including: support groups, legal advocacy, volunteer and internship programs, teen program, walk-in crisis service and 24-hour hotline, transitional housing, community education, family violence victims advocates and court-based advocacy, a “virtual shelter” program for late-life victims of domestic violence, developing options for victim education classes and an emergency safe house.

f the music therapy program proves to be successful for survivors of domestic violence, The MBC anticipates that a detailed program can be written which would be used in other institutes serving similar populations.

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