By: Melissa Pearson


Over the past few years, researchers have found that there has been a major increase in the needs for mental health services within our country and communities. Collectively, we have all faced the fallout and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, the challenges with the pandemic have been stressful and overwhelming, as every part of our day-to-day lives have been questioned and reinvented to satisfy a new set of guidelines and rules. While many adults have suffered at the hands of the pandemic’s uncertainty, it is important for us to remember that children have been disproportionately affected by these changes, as well. They have had to navigate a constantly changing world with little stability and find ways to manage and cope. One study suggests that before the pandemic, an estimated 8.5-11.6% of children around the world suffered from depression or anxiety. As the pandemic continued for months and then into years, those numbers continued to grow and as of a report in August 2021, an estimated 1 in 4 children are experiencing depression and 1 in 5 are experiencing anxiety worldwide.  

As Youthlinc’s Real Life Program began to assess priorities for the 2021-2022 school year, they were receiving feedback in support of these statistics from community partners who were emphasizing the need for a mental health focus for their students. Historically, the program had emphasized a strong curricular focus on financial literacy, civic engagement, job skills, college readiness, nutrition, and physical and emotional health. While all these topics remained vital and important to the success of the program, Real Life also recognized the importance of addressing mental health and coping mechanisms for the student populations they worked with. Real Life quickly got to work to find solutions to better support their students and continue to grow their program. 

As luck and timing would have it, a Music Therapist joined the Youthlinc Board around this same time in 2021. This board member shared her interests in the Real Life Program and the ways that she felt Music Therapy could enhance the curriculum already being offered at Real Life’s twelve after-school sites. She explained the ways in which music plays a role in every single one of our day to day lives. Just about every person can name that one song that puts into words their emotions and feelings better than they ever could. Each of us has a rhythm at which we walk, our hearts beat, we breathe, and even our brain synapses will fire. She went on to explain that Music Therapy is a clinical and evidence-based approach designed to help individuals to process events in their life in a healthy way through music. Its main goals include promoting wellness, managing stress, expressing feelings, and improving communication. The typical approach includes some combination of making music, writing songs, singing, dancing, listening to music, and discussing music.  

Music Therapy felt like a good match for Real Life’s goal to provide hands-on fun, educational, and “real life” applicable lessons while also addressing the mental health needs the program was facing. Through Real Life’s connection on the Youthlinc board, the program was fortunate to be connected to a Music Therapist and to receive a donation to offer 25 sessions in its pilot year. And thus, Music Therapy at Real Life was born! This year, ten of the twelve Real Life sites will engage in 2-3 Music Therapy sessions. The first session is designed around team building and helps the students begin to feel comfortable as they start to work with the Music Therapist, while also experimenting and playing with different musical instruments. The second and third sessions are created around the specific needs of the students at the sites. So far, these sessions have been addressing things like setting boundaries or exploring emotions while also engaging in fun games and activities such as Musical Truth or Dare. As the curriculum continues to grow, Real Life is hopeful to be able to provide students with the skills to deal with topics such as depression, anxiety, mindfulness, healthy relationships, regulation, self-care and more!  

Real Life is excited for the potential of Music Therapy and the positive effects it will have on the students for years to come. To support the continuation of Music Therapy at our Real Life sites, please consider a donation to the Real Life Program: 





Real Life’s New Music Therapy Program
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