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“This program made me realize I’m more than just who I am.  I’m more awesome than I think." - Beyond Trauma: Youth Music Therapy student

The Michael Bolton Charities Beyond Trauma: Youth Music Therapy program is a one-of-a-kind groundbreaking initiative. It reaches high risk students who have a history of domestic violence and/or other significant trauma.

Following extensive research, The Michael Bolton Charities determined that a highly personalized music therapy program possesses the potential for life-changing impact by being a powerful and critical tool in the healing process.

Exceptional partners were identified to provide frontline expertise and offer individualized opportunities to the students. This support can help students develop trust in themselves and others, improve self-expression, and develop coping mechanisms. These skills can lead students to alter the potentially precarious path their lives are on.

The program was first offered in 2016 to students at a New Haven, CT public high school of last resort.  Based on the success of the program, it has subsequently been introduced at a middle school in New London, CT – where it is also showing promising impact on the students.

The disruptions caused by COVID-19 made continued growth and replication of the program more crucial than ever, particularly for this extremely vulnerable population. Recently, one student described the current circumstances this way: “It makes me wonder when I can go back to school. It makes me nervous about spending so much time at home.”

Turning from Trauma

The trauma experienced by these students is acute. The Beyond Trauma: Youth Music Therapy program reaches high-risk students, many within the range for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Common traumatic experiences include: sexual and/or physical abuse, exposure to violence, witnessing and/or experiencing domestic violence, incarceration of a parent, and experiencing life-threatening illness. Some have been homeless, others had friends or relatives shot or stabbed. 

Data collected at the New London middle school shows that.  The majority of participating students have experienced at least three traumas. More than half (56.3%) witnessed violence in their neighborhood and a third (31.8%) had been hurt or threatened. One in five (22.2%) witnessed violence at home and half of them experienced it first-hand. Half of the students indicate that they struggle with a mental illness — not surprising given that 68% of the students fall within the clinical level of PTSD. More than half (54.6%) of the students feel as if their future plans or hopes will not come true.

“It  reminds me how human I am; makes me an optimist“ - Youth Music Therapy Student

Changing Direction

The Beyond Trauma: Youth Music Therapy program meets these students where they are, and builds from there. Research has shown that people experiencing childhood trauma are less likely to graduate and more likely to have troubled futures. Moreover, people who experience three or more adverse childhood experiences (ACE) are more likely to develop heart disease, depression, and addictions.

Working with a music therapist, through instrumental improvisation, writing poetry and songs/raps, taking music lessons, and talking about songs that are meaningful draws in students who are often resistant to traditional therapy.

Expressing themselves in a non-threatening and creative way, students become empowered by their own musical creations - reducing anxiety and anger, generating peace and pride, changing attitudes toward academic work and their own potential.  It is also often joyful. Independent evaluations reflect that the program is providing a “life-changing” impact.

"I feel better about myself.  I feel like I can be myself easier.  I feel like a new person, in a way. I feel like I can do anything! - Youth Music Therapy Student

Encouraging Results

In the years since the first implementation of the Beyond Trauma: Youth Music Therapy program, it is safe to say that it has been successful beyond the most optimistic expectations. Extensive program evaluations show that students feel more empowered by their courage in taking the risk to create their own music, and that they notice shifts in their emotions, often dramatic,  during music therapy sessions. 

Success goes beyond the importance of music. Students’ post-traumatic stress symptoms are reduced, their attendance and behavior are improved. Young people who have known a daily barrage of heartbreak, trauma, violence, adversity and tragedy are – often for the first time in their lives – believing in themselves and their futures. They are starting to learn that they have the power to transform their emotional state.

Reaching More Students

We are striving to reach more young people in more communities nationwide, in settings within schools and through distance learning environments, providing music therapy that enables students to realize potential they did not know they have. The transformation is inspiring — and within our grasp.

We need your support to extend this breakthrough program, to reach more young people. Please donate today.