28th Oct 2014

Music Provides Children With an Outlet for Grief

Music therapist Arvis Jones helps children cope with grief and

other emotions using keyboards and percussion instruments.

Photo by Cheryl A. Guerrero for the Los Angeles Times.

Like any art form, music has long been a means of expression and a way to release emotions we sometimes can’t put into words. Percussion is no exception. What better way to let out your anger, frustration, sadness, or even excitement than banging on a drum? According to music therapist Arvis Jones, assistant director of the Center for Grief and Loss for Children at the mental health agency Hathaway-Sycamores, music is the best way to release painful emotions, especially for children grieving after the loss of a loved one.

“With grief, the pain is sometimes so deep it hurts too much for kids to talk about what they feel. [...] Music breaks down their defenses,” Arvis explained in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times.

For two decades, Arvis has been using the healing powers of music to help children cope with grief and associated emotions, such as anger, confusion, and fear. Some of the “tools” she brings with her to crime scenes, hospitals, funerals, and schools include tambourines, claves, and djembe and tubano drums.

On one occasion, children who had survived a car crash that killed their sibling and put their mother in a coma were so traumatized that they couldn’t look at their mother. It wasn’t until Jones had them dancing around with handheld percussion instruments that the children were able to reconnect with their mother. On another occasion, an angry boy who could not verbally describe his feelings after finding his brother’s body after a suicide was able to express his anger by hitting a drum as hard as he could.

What do you think about music therapy? Has playing the drums or another instrument helped you express an emotion you couldn’t put into words or helped you cope with grief after a loss?