It Takes a Village: The Healing Power of Music
Make Music Matter
John*, a father of nine living in Mulamba, DRC, was dealing with past trauma, financial challenges and the responsibility of supporting a large family. His relationship with his wife became strained as they struggled to make ends meet and keep their household running. He began experiencing chronic headaches, sleep problems and a variety of health issues.
In an effort to save his marriage and mental health, John joined a Make Music Matter ‘Healing in Harmony’ session with his wife. The program offered a unique form of group therapy for survivors of trauma and those who care for them. Working in tandem with a trained therapist and music producer, participants began the healing process by writing, recording and professionally producing songs about their emotions and experiences; while simultaneously engaging in therapy and developing their own musical artistry.
Historically, ‘Healing in Harmony’ was a program designed for women survivors of sexual violence and trauma. Supported by FIT, Make Music Matter and Panzi Hospital and Foundation tested an innovative solution that integrated traumatized men and boys into the program in order to have a deeper community impact. Participating artists included 146 women and 125 men. This version of the program focused on the development of non-violent coping skills, discussing positive models of masculinity, understanding gender equality, and learning tools to support and empower their families and community members. The ‘Healing in Harmony’ environment is one of joy and healing, focusing on turning negative thinking patterns into positive and more adaptive ones. Participants emerge as confident artists and advocates, publicly disseminating their music via local radio, community concerts, social media, and major streaming platforms, helping to reduce stigma surrounding sexual violence, HIV/AIDS, poverty, mental illness, displacement/refugee status, and more.
Innovation data clearly indicated an improvement in mental health for participants. At baseline, 88% of artists screened positive for anxiety and depression, while 40% were experiencing PTSD. At endline, trauma indicators reduced significantly to 8% anxiety, 11% depression and 2% PTSD. The innovation also created 11 MUSO groups (mutuels de solidarité) to provide social support for the artists to ensure post-test sustainability. A concert was held in December 2021 where, for the first time, a group of men sang about positive masculinity, equality and human rights.
Through his participation in the program, John experienced the healing power of music. His family relationships have improved and he reported “rediscovering a sense of living”. His wife feels more supported by her husband and is grateful to have the music therapy program in Mulamba. They are now stable as a couple and have learned to face life’s challenges in a positive way, as partners.
“The fact that men are now participating in the sessions is very reassuring for women and has given the program higher credibility in the community,” said Dr. Bienvenu, medical doctor at the Mulamba Hospital Center. “Men who took part in the first cycles are giving positive feedback and encouraging other men to join. It is helping the hospital in a number of ways, and is one of the prides of the centre.”
*name has been changed to protect the participant’s identity