Book Review – McFerran, K., Derrington, P., & Saarikaalo, S. (2019). Handbook of Music, Adolescents, and Wellbeing. Oxford University Press.

McFerran, K., Derrington, P., & Saarikaalo, S. (2019). Handbook of Music, Adolescents, and Wellbeing. OUP.

Reviewer: Will Darbyshire

BBehSc, MMusThrpy, NZ RMTh
Raukatauri Music Therapy Centre, Hawke’s Bay

The power of music to evoke emotion during adolescence is undeniable. As a music therapist, I have seen how adolescents use music to project their identity, express great emotion, and distract themselves from the world. I therefore jumped at the opportunity to review the Handbook of Music, Adolescents, and Wellbeing.

This Handbook takes a deep look at how adolescents engage with music. It explores the complex ways music can be used throughout adolescence to affect emotion, provide a sense of identity, and to connect with others. The editors, McFerran, Derrington, and Saarikallio, acknowledge the huge breadth of interest and research in this field, and have included a wide range of recent research and practice orientations, theoretical frameworks, and perspectives. The Handbook serves as both a theoretical and practical resource for those working with adolescents. It includes chapters from music therapists, music psychologists, music educators, and community musicians from nine countries over four continents. Within this diverse range of perspectives, significant efforts have been made to include the voices of the adolescents themselves, allowing for a deeper insight into how they think about and use music in their lives.

The editors have structured their book into three parts: “Processing Emotions”, “Performing Identity”, and “Connectedness”. In her introductory chapter, McFerran describes the challenge of integrating differing perspectives of music, emotion, and adolescence. She suggests using the metaphor of “crystallization” – the cohabitation of multiple meanings, rather than the integration of different ideas into singular truths. From this standpoint, the reader is encouraged to move away from a binary way of thinking of music as being either positive or negative. Instead, McFerran asks the reader to consider the use of music along a wellbeing continuum, embracing the complex ways adolescents use music as a resource.

Part 1 explores some emotional challenges that adolescents face, such as violence and aggression (Chapter 2), anxiety (Chapter 3), and depression (Chapter 5). The authors examine how music may be utilised to benefit adolescents’ wellbeing. Other chapters in this section explore theoretical considerations and clinical case studies of adolescents, music, and emotion. Contemporary theoretical approaches are discussed, including emotion, current evaluative measures, and challenges (Chapter 4); conceptual models of affect and self-regulation (Chapter 6); and violence (Chapter 7). I found each chapter accessible and engaging. I particularly enjoyed Josephine Geipel’s chapter, which describes a music therapy manual for adolescents with depression. Geipel provides a framework that covers specific techniques, such as songwriting and improvisation, while acknowledging the need for flexibility and person-focused sessions. I found this manual highly useful in providing guidance on how to structure sessions to best support the client.

The focus of Part 2 is how adolescents utilise music as a resource for identity formation. Saarikallio opens this section by describing identity formation as the “critical, defining process of youth” (p.89). She explores how music can provide a sense of agency, as adolescents navigate the complex social, relational, emotional, and societal changes of these formative years. Music enables adolescents to explore their sense of identity and inclusion (Chapter 12), when experiencing disability (Chapter 13), or thinking about gender and sexuality (Chapter 14). This section introduces contemporary theory about how music supports identity formation, illustrated through case studies and discussion of the literature. Methods such as preferred music, song-writing, and group music are suggested as ways of influencing personality, identity articulation, and sense of self.

I was particularly drawn to Norwegian Viggo Kruger’s case study about the identity formation process for adolescents in child welfare settings. Also of interest were New Zealand music therapist Daphne Rickson’s case vignettes about identity formation for adolescents living with a disability. I gained a deeper appreciation of how social categorisations of disability, race, and nationality inevitably intersect when adolescents explore their social identity. The section concludes with Elly Scrine’s chapter, emphasising the importance of exploring concepts of gender and sexuality with all young people participating in music therapy. Scrine invites those working with adolescents to consider the often hidden power dynamics. She encourages reflexive practices that emphasise active collaboration and inclusion – a pertinent recommendation for therapists working in culturally diverse New Zealand.

The final part discusses how adolescents can use music to connect with others. Philippa Derrington introduces the section by exploring how adolescents are interacting with one another in the twenty-first century. She focuses on how the internet has transformed life, and how music platforms and instant technology can positively support these interpersonal connections. Derrington advocates the use of video and audio recordings as therapeutic tools. Digital devices can act as “containers” within both the physical space and the therapeutic relationship (p.171). These devices can create something tangible to take away from the therapy space – objects that can be revisited, allowing the emotional containment of the session to extend beyond the therapy room.

Subsequent chapters explore how adolescents are navigating an increasingly connected world, viewing points of connection within music scenes (Chapter 17), connections through social media (Chapter 19), and music technology use in the therapy space (Chapters 15 and 20).

I found the discussions of technology in therapeutic practice particularly thought-provoking, especially in light of COVID-19. When New Zealand went into lockdown at the end of March, therapists around the country faced the reality of having to support clients primarily through the internet. I found myself considering how to approach online sessions with clients, exploring not only the ethical implications of this work, but also the new possibilities available to us. The connections people make with others increasingly happen online, shaping how we express ourselves and communicate with one another. It is, therefore, vital that practitioners actively consider how to use these connections ethically and positively.

This book provides insight into current theories and practice – how music can be used by and with adolescents to enhance their wellbeing. The balance of contributors from a range of fields and disciplines has created a strong resource not only for music therapists, but also for health, education, and community practitioners. I appreciated the level of detail in the authors’ depictions of their work, through case studies and vignettes. The editors have created a diverse, inclusive resource that seeks to give voice to the adolescents themselves. However, I would have enjoyed hearing too from authors in Asia and South America, as the book focused on European, North American, Australian, and New Zealand perspectives.

Whatever your field of practice and background, I recommend reading this book in its entirety, as gems of knowledge are scattered throughout. Although the book focuses on adolescents, many concepts of emotional exploration and identity formation are already beginning to occur in preadolescence. This resource book may, therefore, also be useful for people working with older children. The Handbook is insightful, well-constructed, and optimistic, and would be well placed on the shelf of anyone working with adolescents today.

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