Carmen Cheong-Clinch is a musical therapist, researching new ways of enabling young people to understand and respond to emotions through music.
In working with young people with severe mental illness, Carmen finds that a major barrier is that young people with mental illness lack the language skills to effectively explain how they’re feeling. Poor emotional communication is a common and frustrating hurdle for young people who are suffering from complex sensations. The therapist says that music helps find ways through the phrase, “I’m a bit sad.”
Having recently conducted a study to define the nature of the relationship between young people and music, she heard comments such as,
“I can’t live without my music.”
This is a telling statement. Carmen’s research found that young people use music as a way of understanding their own emotions, and often, as a way of coping with them.
“You can’t take away the music unless you take away the pain.”
Carmen attempts to reach young people through their music, finding it more effective to ask, “What music have you been listening to?” rather than, “How do you feel?”
This initiates a conversation of intimate interest with a youth.
One young person describes sharing their music, “It’s like reading their diary… it’s personal… it means a lot.”
However, music can be a double-edged sword. With the benefits of being an ’emotional GPS’ and regulatory tool, it can also facilitate young people’s ruminating and perpetuating negative emotions. Carmen made a point of adding, “It’s not genre specific… it’s how they engage [with their music]”.
Carmen explains that a lot of music listening is done unconsciously. Music that can help explain a person’s current state goes by largely unnoticed. She said that in her experience it is helpful to make that engagement with music more conscious, so that young people can hear what emotions they are connecting to and address them on a more deliberate level.
Carmen is now working with project Tune Your Mood to connect and work with young people using their own musical interests.
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