Lehtonen, Kimmo. (2008). Hard Rock Therapy for Young Rebels. Soundeffects, 5 (1), 10-14. Retrieved December 5, 2009 from http://www.soundeffects.wlu.ca/newsletter/vol_05_issue_01.pdf
This article is written by a music therapist in Finland and describes his music therapy work with teenagers. Dr. Kimmo Lehtonen works at the Family Rehab Centre and Special School in Turku, Finland, where he works with high-risk teenagers. These teenagers usually have difficult backgrounds including problems with family, school, and drugs and alcohol, and often demonstrate anti-social and aggressive behaviours. At the institution, these teenagers work with family therapists, music therapists, music teachers, and music-club leaders.
Dr. Lehtonen leads music therapy sessions using improvised hard rock music. He employs psychodynamic theory of music and compares his work to play therapy in the way it creates opportunities to work through psychic conflicts. He sees his work as providing experiences of achievement and of ego mastery; experiences that can then be applied to other situations. Dr. Lehtonen views musical improvisation as an activity based heavily in bodily communication and rhythmic experience that hearkens back to the life of the infant.
The process Dr. Lehtonen uses in his music therapy sessions is simple and straightforward. He typically begins by improvising with the client, usually featuring himself on the electric guitar and the client on the drums. In order to provide an experience of togetherness, Dr. Lehtonen allows the client to lead and follows wherever they go, constantly working to make the client sound as great as possible and empower them. In working with the teenagers, Dr. Lehtonen uses aggression and encourages the clients to express emotions of hatred and frustration. He tries to show music’s capacity for catharsis and allows raw and extreme emotions to be expressed.
Dr. Lehtonen’s work with high-risk teenagers has been compared to the highly respected El Sistema, a music program in Venezuela that provides street children with free classical music training. While many classical music lovers are quick to point out that it is classical music that is used with El Sistema, Dr. Lehtonen argues that any type of music can be used to achieve similar results. What is most important is the manner in which the music is introduced.
Dr. Lehtonen also relates the role of music in his life. In the sixties, he was drawn to the electric guitar, and though he studied classical music for years, he always felt out of place with it and eventually returned to jazz and rock. This is the music that speaks to him, and he shares this passion with his clients.
Outside of Dr. Lehtonen’s music therapy sessions, the teenagers at the institution are given opportunities to build their own instruments and are encouraged to join the bands formed at the school. In addition to describing some of the amazing resources available to the students, Dr. Lehtonen relates some inspiring stories from his work with these teenagers.
When I saw the title of this article, I was immediately interested by the idea of using “hard rock therapy” with teenagers. While I have never been particularly enthusiastic about hard rock, I can see that it could create great opportunities when used with teenagers. When I was a teenager, classical music was not the common musical passion among my age group, and I doubt that the situation has changed much since then. I feel that as a teenager, the idea of “needing therapy” does not necessarily help one’s peers to view one in a more favourable light. Classical music therapy on top of it all might be a tough sell.
In contrast, I feel that by using hard rock, the music therapist can potentially meet the client closer to their comfort level. While I am not at all familiar with popular culture among the youth of Finland, at least here in Canada, I suspect that the average teenager is more familiar with hard rock than with classical music. Even if many are not familiar with hard rock exactly, they are likely more comfortable in the presence of electric guitars, bases, and drums than say violins, French horns, and bassoons. Most teenagers can probably name a band, or even just a few songs, that they like that use electric guitar and drums. Dr. Lehtonen also allows his clients to choose the style of music they wish to play and follows their lead. Ultimately then, this approach creates an opportunity for the teenagers to be in a layout they are familiar with, creating music that they enjoy.
This choice of instruments and music genre also provides an opportunity for expressing intense negative emotions and simply expelling energy. I was interested by Dr. Lehtonen’s writing about encouraging emotional expression, even when working with extreme emotions of aggression, anger, and frustration. Dr. Lehtonen refers to the fact that we rarely are given the opportunity to express negative emotions but rather are encouraged to keep them quiet and work around them. I feel that I am more familiar and consequently more comfortable with this approach, but while this technique works well for some, I can imagine it does not appeal to everyone. Dr. Lehtonen specifically refers to encouraging his clients to “beat the drums as though they are the cause of your problems.” I find it compelling that he so actively encourages a physical expression of negative emotion and can imagine that many of his clients feel a tremendous sense of release afterward as a result.
In reading this article, I was struck by the tremendous human and material resources made available to the participating teenagers. Music education is taught in conjunction with music therapy, and the students can have almost ten hours of music instruction and therapy a week. The institution has two well-equipped music studios, and the students have access to a teacher qualified in instrument making to guide them in constructing their very own instrument, should they choose. The students also have opportunities to play in bands. Dr. Lehtonen talks about some of the benefits of playing in a band, including learning from peers, learning about responsibility, and learning to trust and respect your colleagues while collaborating and compromising. I feel that playing in a musical ensemble offers a tremendous opportunity for learning and personal growth, and am quite impressed by this description of the program made available to these youth. All in all, this article almost makes me wish I was a teenager living in Finland.