From Healing Rituals to Music Therapy: Bridging the Cultural Divide Between Therapist and Young Sudanese Refugees

Carolyn Jones
Felicity Baker
Toni Day


This paper discusses the recent music therapy work with young Sudanese refugees in Australia. It represents a unique opportunity to learn more about the cultural differences and to explore possible solutions for bridging that divide. The music therapy program's goal is to enhance the well-being of young people by encouraging students to express and explore feelings through a variety of musical activities. However, the differences in each culture's understanding of health, healing, music and music therapy are many. This paper highlights three important techniques for successful engagement in music therapy with the Sudanese; the first of which is the use of syncopation and strong, clear rhythms. The second technique is the importance of players maintaining individual parts when making music together; this results in 'complementing', in which music is created by the interlocking of independent parts. The third essential element for this population is body movement. Each of these three musical ideas is important for building rapport and communication with the Sudanese youth. The music therapy program has been successful, as the pervasive, communal use of music within Sudanese society has led to youth with well-developed rhythmic and improvisational skills. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved)