Exploring the value of rhythm-based support with children who have experienced trauma

How can drumming and hip-hop be used to support young people in out of home care?

More than 10,000 Victorian children are living in Out of Home Care (OoHC), with authorities considering their safety and wellbeing at immediate risk in the care of biological parents. Little evidence exists about best practice in support programs for these young people but recent theories, informed by neuroscience, suggest that rhythm-based activities may be one innovative and engaging approach with the potential to make a difference.

In this investigation, the research team partnered with young people in four small groups to explore the value of rhythm-based activities for supporting them. In contrast to brain-based theories about predictable responses to rhythm that would be the same for all people, the young participants each used the musical opportunities in different ways, but key themes emerged about the importance of safety and a sense of belonging.

Dancing, drumming, rapping and song writing all afforded opportunities to play, feel comfortable and settled, and to have fun. Although less sensational than notions of healing trauma, the research team argues that children and young people deserve access to programs that meet their fundamental and often unmet needs for acceptance and pleasure.

This project was supported through the Melbourne Social Equity Institute's 2018 Seed Funding Round.

Professor Katrina Skewes McFerran [National Music Therapy Research Unit]

Associate Professor Helen Stokes [Youth Research Centre]

Kate Teggelove [PaKT4Change]

Celeste Haddock [Anglicare Australia]

Journal articles

McFerran, K.S., Crooke, A., Kalenderidis, Z., Stokes, H., Teggelove, Kate (2022) What young people think about music, rhythm and trauma: an action research study,  Frontiers in Psychology.

McFerran, K.S. (2021). Reconsidering the dominant narratives of the music therapy profession for the future, Canadian Journal of Music Therapy

McFerran, K.S., Lai, H.I.C., Chang, W., Acquaro, D., Stokes, H. & Crooke, A. (2020). Music, rhythm and trauma: A critical interpretive synthesis of research literature, Frontiers in Psychology

For information about this project, please contact:

Professor Katrina Skewes McFerran
National Music Therapy Research Unit
Faculty of Fine Arts and Music
Phone +61 3 8344 7382
Email: k.mcferran@unimelb.edu.au