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Adolescents, Music and Music Therapy. Methods and Techniques for Clinicans, Educators and Students.

McFerran, Katrina (2010) Adolescents, Music and Music Therapy. Methods and Techniques for Clinicans, Educators and Students. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Reviewed by Philippa Derrington MA. Music therapist at Cottenham Village College and Centre School, Cambridge UK.

Adolescents, Music and Music Therapy

Adolescents, Music and Music Therapy - © Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Adolescents, Music and Music Therapy by Katrina McFerran is the fifth book in a methods series published by Jessica Kingsley. The previous publications are: Improvisation (Wigram, 2004); Songwriting (eds Baker, F. and Wigram, T. 2005); Receptive Methods in Music Therapy (Grocke, D.E. and Wigram, T. 2006); and Microanalysis in Music Therapy (eds. Wosch, T. and Wigram, T. 2007).

This book provides a balanced theoretical and practical guide to working with adolescents. Music therapists, whether newly qualified or with experience in the field will find this book useful. It offers detailed explanations for realistic ways of working with adolescents and is packed full of ideas: from the description of an adolescent-friendly instrumentarium to a Symphonic model of music therapy group development – with an introduction, exposition, development, recapitulation and coda. ‘Teenagers exist on the cusp between expression and articulation, and music matches this level of experience very successfully’ (p. 137).

Based on years of experience working with adolescents with very different needs and in a wide variety of settings, McFerran clearly sets out her method and explains her reasons for ways of working including different types of activities she uses. The breadth of her experience is evident in the illustrative vignettes which accompany each section of her clearly defined method. McFerran’s experience with adolescents has included work in a range of community and institutional settings and examples range from work in a hospice and hospital, to special schools. The adolescents may have profound and multiple learning disabilities, emotional and behavioural difficulties, be facing terminal illness, loss or grief.

From the beginning, as the author explains how and why music and music therapy is relevant for adolescents, McFerran’s passion for her work is obvious. Her engaging style draws the reader in and the clarity of the text and layout of each chapter is well designed. The book has four parts:- Background; Song methods and teenagers; Using improvisation with teenagers; and Contemporary approaches.

The systematic view of the literature, chapter 1, includes a look at how many therapists are working in this area, in what settings and what they use in their method. Interestingly, McFerran discovers that, although adolescents spend most of their (weekdays) time in school, the majority of music therapy work does not take place in educational settings but in hospital, inpatient health care settings or hospices. McFerran also uncovers through the literature that there is no significant one way, nor a prescriptive method for any particular setting. The author’s response and intention with this book, underpinned by her doctoral research, was ‘to provide a Map, or a guide, that encourages music therapists to approach adolescents in their own way’ (p. 279). The following chapter leads on to McFerran’s description of her blended eclectic model of music therapy, ‘The real deal on how to work with adolescents’.

The final chapter (3) in part one is an ‘overview of some key ideas in relation to four elements of adolescent health – resilience, identity formation, competence and connectedness’. This is a very useful and welcome chapter for those who have attempted to find out more about adolescents and been daunted by the vast literature on the subject.

Parts two and three encompass the practical material and descriptions of the author’s work. The parts are divided into three sections, when the music therapist’s focus is on 1.Fostering understanding; 2.Offering acceptance; and 3.Facilitating development. Each method she describes has a section for ‘Setting and purpose’, ‘Illustrative vignettes’, ‘Evaluating effectiveness’ and ‘Key points’.

In part two, McFerran explores the use of existing songs (chapter 4) and the composition of original songs (chapter 5). In part three, the author discusses the use of composition with teenagers in both groups (chapter 6) and individually (chapter 7). ‘The unique attitudes and needs encountered with this age group are at the centre of each of these practical chapters’ (p. 22). The reader cannot help but be enthused by the vivacity and clarity of McFerran’s text.

Finally, in part four, McFerran looks at contemporary approaches to music therapy, the need to look at the adolescent in context and with more focus on developmental achievements that take place outside of the music therapy setting. Within the framework of community music therapy (chapter 8) and contemporary practice, McFerran discusses the use of performances and recordings. Again, the author illustrates her approach with vignettes which successfully capture the enthusiasm and energy of the teenagers and therapist.

Chapter 9, ‘Four brief approaches to grief’, sets aside this crucial area for adolescents who may be experiencing all kinds of loss. As well as describing her work with adolescents, McFerran highlights the importance of running workshops to youth professionals and ways of using music with the young people. Her honest and expert reflections on her experiences of this work are valuable. Vignettes from a bereavement support group demonstrate the author’s point concerning preparation for performances (chapter 10) and the therapist’s responsibility to constantly check the impact that this has on the therapeutic process.

This book not only updates music therapy literature, which had lacked such a text that focused solely on adolescents, but has added a wealth of information. McFerran’s writing is genuine, inspiring and certainly reflects her passion and understanding of work with young people. The book will be helpful to music therapists working with adolescents in any setting and should generate further interest and research in this area because, as McFerran’s book makes clear, there is very little research that specifically addresses the value and effectiveness of music therapy for adolescents.

I shall leave the last word to Tony Wigram, whose foreword to this book reflects his high regard for the author, both as researcher and clinician. He writes: ‘Music is an integrating, emotional and highly attractive art form, and Kat McFerran demonstrates here with all her exciting ideas and methods how the power and value of music can be a positive force in the lives of adolescents’.


Wigram, T. (2004) Improvisation: Methods and Techniques for Clinicans, Educators and Students. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Baker, F. and Wigram, T. eds (2005) Songwriting: Methods and Techniques for Clinicans, Educators and Students. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Grocke, D. and Wigram, T. (2006) Receptive Methods in Music Therapy: Methods and Techniques for Clinicans, Educators and Students. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Wosch, T. and Wigram, T. eds (2007) Microanalysis in Music Therapy: Methods and Techniques for Clinicans, Educators and Students. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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