Music Therapy, Student Life

Music therapy interns impacting Doors to Freedom residents

By CSU Media | April 3, 2019
Alisa Ljungquist

Music therapy students from Charleston Southern University complete internships in local organizations focused on helping the hurting such as Doors to Freedom, My Sister’s House and the Coastal Regional Evaluation Center. 

The Doors to Freedom safe home, located in the Lowcountry, provides a place for female victims of sex trafficking between 12 and 20 years of age. The students from CSU integrate music therapy into the survivors’ recovery process.

Alisa Ljungquist (pictured), a senior music therapy major, has partnered with Doors to Freedom. Music therapy has many definitions, but to Ljungquist it is, “the use of skillful musical interventions and clinical based research that aids in meeting an individual’s needs in areas such as cognitive functioning, physical strength, mental health, spiritual health, emotional health and socialization.”

April Brien, who oversees music therapy internships such as this one, said, “Music therapy is effective in places like Doors to Freedom because it fosters a powerful three-fold alliance between the therapist, the clients and the music. This essential alliance contributes to a sense of safety and belonging which are important in building a foundation for healing.”

“These girls are survivors, warriors and have such an amazing testimony that I’m so humbled to be a part of,” said Ljungquist. She is an advocate against sex trafficking and believes every woman should be empowered and free.

Music therapy is a widely practiced field that engages the entirety of the brain and has been found to be very helpful in the counseling and healing process. The process releases hormones such as dopamine and prolactin that help the brain process and make connections. “I’ve seen it break down barriers, restore hope, provide an outlet of expression and bring such joy in a way that’s almost impossible to put into words,” said Ljungquist.

CSU students like Ljungquist get the opportunity to provide tailored interventions with their clients to provide growth for the individual. Some interventions they practice are relaxation techniques, lyric analysis and self-expression through writing songs.

“Clinical students are able to offer approximately nine group sessions per semester at Doors to Freedom during their third or fourth year in their academic training. Clinical interns spend six to eight months in a full-time capacity at Doors to Freedom after their academic curriculum is complete and before obtaining their music therapy degree,” said Brien.

Music therapy interns see clients become more aware of their triggers, equip them with coping strategies and help them learn how to communicate in a healthy manner. For individuals who have been through extreme trauma such as the girls at Doors to Freedom, music therapy along with other interventions greatly provide healing. 

“Results are often profound. Adolescent females who have endured such traumatic experiences as sex trafficking are often fearful and nontrusting of adult authority figures… Survivors in music therapy groups often learn to identify feelings, to safely express them, as well as valuable coping skills and healthy new leisure activities,” said Brien. 

“The girls have experienced such trauma that they do not know how to fully express their feelings into words. Music therapy can be viewed as a backdoor approach where clients may see the therapy as fun, meanwhile meeting goals and making clinical progress,” said Ljungquist.

CSU’s music therapy program is one of only two programs offered in the state of South Carolina and is the oldest program. Learn more at

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