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Hip-hop therapy in practice

In the latest issue of {INSIGHT} Magazine, Jaleel Abdul-Adil, Ph.D., shares how hip-hop therapy can be used effectively to entertain and educate. Find out how his students have used this form of music therapy in their own clinical psychology projects.

Jaleel Abdul-Adil, Ph.D., learned early on how influential hip-hop music could be in clinical therapy from his own work with youth. And when he joined The Chicago School, he wanted his clinical psychology students to be able to use the techniques in their own practice. Find out how these four students―Ronald Love, Jr., Dori White, Talia Rudkin, and Alexandra Coleman―have used hip-hop therapy overseas and with local youth groups.  

Students visited South Africa from April 14-23, 2018. Their itinerary included visiting the Ekupholeni Mental Health and Trauma Centre in Johannesburg. (Photo courtesy of Ronald Love Jr.)

From poetry to music, how do these artists affect you?

Ronald Love, Jr. took three of Dr. Abdul-Adil’s hip-hop therapy courses: “Youth Interventions with Rap and Hip-Hop,” “Life Span 1,” and “Life Span 2.” He also participated in hip-hop therapy during a study abroad course called “Trauma, Reconciliation, and Healing” in South Africa.

“When I was first accepted to TCSPP, I looked up the faculty online and saw Dr. Abdul-Adil’s work in hip-hop therapy. I’d never heard of it before, but I was already a big fan of hip-hop and R&B. Dr. Abdul-Adil was one of the reasons why I wanted to work in a clinical mental health environment where I could use his form of intervention to work with kids and adolescents. Hip-hop therapy is a way to engage with others through poetry and music therapy. Using Kendrick Lamar as an example, he raps a lot about being a black male in America or growing up in Compton. I may ask a kid how he can relate to one of Kendrick’s songs on economics, crime, social justice, or even his own upbringing. Questions like these are a great icebreaker with youth who may already be hesitant to speak up about their own issues.”

The underlying connection to hip-hop lyrics, both negative and positive

Dori White

Dori White was one of two award recipients for Outstanding Student of the Year in 2018. Her paid fellowship was supervised by Dr. Abdul-Adil through his youth program, Hip Hop H.E.A.L.S. She completed some of her work at the Sue Duncan Center, an affiliate of Chicago’s Jackie Robinson Elementary School.

“I was first introduced to Hip Hop H.E.A.L.S. through Jill Glenn, the Director of Community Partnerships at The Chicago School. The minute I saw that this program blended therapy with hip-hop, my first reaction was ‘Where do I sign up?’ I already love hip-hop music, and my goal was to work with teenage youth. I was very lucky to be chosen as one of the students to work within the program. After learning trauma training at the University of Illinois, Chicago, my group was assigned to work with African-American males. Hip-hop music helped them to express themselves, and also to learn the impact that music plays in their lives and in their choices. The lyrics, videos, and underlying topics were things they could relate to that accurately depicted what was going on in their lives—songs that had both negative and positive messages. Each week we discussed topics such as community violence, relationships, self-image, and masculinity. It was really powerful and eye opening.”

Music lessons through the generations  

Talia Rudkin

Talia Rudkin took Dr. Abdul-Adil’s “Special Topics: Youth Intervention Rap and Hip Hop” and participated in hip-hop therapy during a study abroad course called “Trauma, Reconciliation, and Healing” in South Africa. She has also completed work at a juvenile detention center, a maximum security prison, and a communication youth group.

“After learning how to do hip-hop therapy, and how to implement this kind of intervention, I brought it to a prison where I was doing one of my practicums for clinical work. My therapy group did lyric analysis. Although we weren’t allowed to listen to music, that didn’t stop the guys in my group from bringing in their own music or poetry. This opened up a meaningful dialogue with them, ages 20 to mid-50s, writing down their own thoughts on the lyrics and having an outlet to get things off their chest. Although there was a bit of blowback from incarcerated individuals who didn’t understand why there is so much cursing in many hip-hop songs, this also sparked a conversation on the culture of youth versus older generations, and how these two groups may differ when it comes to music.”

Hip-hop therapy creates another tool in the clinical psychology toolkit

Alexandra Coleman

Alexandra Coleman co-facilitated a hip-hop therapy group in Chicago last semester. She also presented on hip-hop therapy during a study abroad course called “Trauma, Reconciliation, and Healing” in South Africa.

“My group was in South Africa for 10 days. Half of it was learning about the history of South Africa and apartheid from a public policy perspective. The other half was learning about personal trauma, intergenerational trauma, and apartheid from a cultural perspective. Many of the topics that mental health professionals in South Africa discuss with their clients are topics we struggle to have conversations about in the U.S. as well. We all want to connect with our clients and to create a therapeutic space for them to discuss sensitive, difficult topics. But it can be hard to open up those kinds of conversations. In South Africa, they had never heard of hip-hop therapy before in most of the places that we went. I think the people we worked with really appreciated having another tool in their kit to initiate difficult conversations and for working with kids with trauma histories.”

(from left) Katie Paul, Talia Rudkin, Ronald Love Jr., Alexandra Coleman, and Estelle Oyer in South Africa (Photo courtesy of Ronald Love Jr.)

“I found, that approaching difficult conversations from an angle where youth get to talk about something that they really care about, like music, sometimes makes them more willing to talk openly. The conversations are richer, and in my experience the youth are more engaged. I think they feel it’s less like schoolwork and more like something beneficial and fun for them to do. The youth I have worked with will talk about topics related to the lyrics in hip-hop, and they’re willing to do outside research to flesh out their discussion points. They even taught me about new rappers, so I’m doing outside research just like they are. Knowing what music they like and why they like it helps me better get to know them, and learn about what’s important in life to them.”

Recommended Read: “Rhymes + Rhythms = Revolution”


Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Shamontiel L. Vaughn joined TCS Education System’s Marketing Department as the Editorial Writer in February 2017. She has previously worked in digital media with the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Defender, CBS Chicago, and Sun Times Network.


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