Impact of Songwriting on Behavior of Adolescents With Suicidal Ideation in a Residential Psychiatric Setting: An Exploratory Study

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Stearns-Bruner, Gloria
Master of Arts in Music Therapy
This study addressed the lack of literature reflecting effective innovative programming suited to the needs of adolescents who suffer with severe suicidal ideation (SI) in residential treatment centers (RTC). Behavior, such as self-harm, determines admission to RTC and behavior, such as utilizing positive coping strategies, determines discharge from RTC. Studies show that adolescents responded positively to songwriting which is a creative, strength-based and trauma informed music therapy method (Rolvsjord, 2005). Songwriting offers choice, freedom, and structure (Davies, 2005; Derrington, 2005). It is an effective vehicle for processing emotions and thoughts associated with trauma (Crowe, 2007; Dalton & Krout, 2005; Gooding, 2008; Lindberg, 1995), and exploring new behaviors (Goldstein, 1990). This pre-experimental exploratory study examined the impact of songwriting on behavior of five participants ages 13-17 living in a residential treatment center in a psychiatric hospital who suffered from suicidal ideation. The study utilized a within-group comparison of data (the observed behavioral outcomes for each participant) with and without the songwriting intervention, using a site-specific protocol that identified unsafe behaviors as major violations (MV). The study showed mixed results; three participants’ MVs decreased, and two participants’ MVs initially increased then decreased during six songwriting sessions. Participants wrote individual songs reflecting personal struggles and strengths, while drawing on group support and feedback. Coping tools identified from the songwriting process may have had a positive impact on behavioral change. Recommendations for continued research include qualitative and mixed methods studies examining multiple benefits of songwriting as a vehicle for coping with trauma, challenging thoughts and emotions, and exploring links to behavioral change.