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MDX research shows Music Therapy can improve emotional wellbeing and cognitive function of displaced adults

Ukrainian caregivers and their young children showed significant improvements in wellbeing after Music Therapy sessions

A project offering Music Therapy to displaced caregivers and their toddlers has been deemed a success after the adults showed positive improvement in a number of areas and reported improvements in their children.

Music4DisplacedDyads is a collaboration* across different subjects involving academic staff and students from MDX, The University of South Wales and Buckinghamshire New University.

It looked at adults and children under three who have fled from war and unrest. With both groups experiencing high rates of trauma and loss, there is an impact on mental health, parenting and child development.

The project, led by MDX Associate Professor of Psychology Dr Fabia Franco, compared questionnaire measures of mental health, parental wellbeing and cognitive function before and after a two-month course of weekly sessions of improvisational music therapy in which music is used as communication rather than entertainment.

After eight weeks there was a significant decrease of anxiety, depression and PTSD symptoms within the forcibly displaced caregiver group in addition to enhanced attention, concentration and flexibility.

Dr Franco said: “These outcomes are very important in the management of everyday activities and could better support the caregivers’ integration into the workforce. They also suggest more positive developmental forecasts also for the children.”

The novelty of this research is that the music therapy sessions target two generations at once (caregivers and toddlers) and focus on forcibly displaced persons. Dr Franco said that this can significantly increase the likelihood of positive forecasts and integration.

Now the Music Therapy Charity and the Faculty of Science and Technology at MDX have confirmed funding for the next phase of the project which will offer small-group Music Therapy to forcibly displaced caregivers and their young children from Ukraine (West) and Afghanistan (East).

Music4DisplacedDyads sessions consisted of weekly sessions held at Old Diorama Arts Centre in London. Improvisational Music Therapy was used to stimulate active musical interactions across the group. Traditional songs, lullabies and playsongs were shared and new ones explored.

“With groups in which English may not be well developed, participants can interact through the music-making with little verbal input,” said Dr Franco.

“There are opportunities for creating joint experiences such as learning a new song. Although displaced persons may come from different musical cultures, repertoires of child-directed songs have near-universal features, which are grounded in parenting needs such as soothing a distressed baby or entertaining an easily distracted young child.”

Dr Franco said promoting healthy parent-child interactions that will positively support development and attachment processes is of paramount importance for the wellbeing and social integration of the families.

“It also gives the potential of promoting shared experiences with the local population, enhancing quality of life within host neighbourhoods, better educational attainments and contribution to the workforce,” she added.

Figures from the World Health Organisation show that worldwide, 108.4 million people were forcibly displaced by the end of 2022, and 40 per cent were children.

In Europe, 7.6 million Ukrainians fled the ongoing war with Russia, of which over 65,700 entered the UK by May 2022. The UK is also currently hosting a growing Afghan population; from March 2023, approximately 21,000 Afghans have been resettled in the UK, including families with young children residing in temporary accommodation.

Musical interventions including Music Therapy have in the past been successfully used to alleviate symptoms of depression (including postpartum) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and improve mental health in refugees, with higher retention rates compared to other standard care.

The new project, Music4DisplacedDyads East West**,  will be an important next phase of the research by including a group of non-Western displaced caregivers from Afghanistan.

Dr Franco said: “This will help us identify possible areas of cultural sensitivity in a more diverse sample, thus allowing us to draw recommendations for the implementation of this cost-effective, non-pharmacological support method, with the potential to extend this model of intervention to many other groups of caregivers and their children.”

Research results will be presented at conferences in 2024 and are being written up for publication in peer-reviewed journals.

*Music4DisplacedDyads collaborators:

Dr Elizabeth Coombes, Senior Lecturer at University of South Wales, Course Leader MA Music Therapy

· Dr Tamara Fedotiuk, Researcher At Risk Fellow at Middlesex (originally an academic from Kyiv)

· Dr Letitia Slabu, Senior MDX Psychology Lecturer

MDX Psychology and Music students, Ellie Matthews; trainee music therapist at USW

FILM CREW:Dr Tom McGorrian, Associate Professor at Buckingham New University, with two BNU BA film studies students.

**Music4DisplacedDyads East West collaborators:

As above, plus Dr Nina Polytimou, Lecturer at UCL Institute of Education, and Dr Beth Pickard, HPCP music therapist and Senior Lecturer at University of South Wales.

Further support from Middlesex cross-faculty Migration, Policy and Society Research Cluster at Middlesex.

To find out more about studying psychology at MDX, click here.

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