Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of profiles of notable graduates in the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Class of 2013. Click here to read a previous graduate profile of Keith Fraser and here for one on Christa Faison.
Music’s therapeutic power is not breaking news. Nor is it that hip-hop has long battled stereotypes calcified by skew-y first impressions or experiences with artists not representative of the culture’s best.
Somewhere in between is the idea that the central focus on lyricism in hip-hop as a genre of music has far greater value than it’s credited for.
And that’s where emerging therapist Joe Latterner is turning skeptics. “Hip-hop therapy,” he said, is working.
Latterner, who on Saturday walked as a graduate of UNCW’s social work grad program, just recently spoke at New York’s Fordham University to scholars, practitioners and students gathered for the second annual “Hip-Hop Therapy and Hip-Hop Psychology” research conference.
“A lot of the clinicians and students I was talking to up there [observed] that, right now, it’s not bona fide therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy or motivational interviewing,” noted the 30-year-old, who moved to Wilmington in 2001 to attend the university’s undergraduate program in sociology.
But the basics are simple.
“So, you’ve got the general music therapy part,” Latterner explained. “But then you have narrative therapy, which is in where [artists are] telling their story through their lyrics, through their music.”
It goes beyond the sonics and harmonies and beats and ambiance and deep into lyrical subject matter, exploring for themes that can relate to individual or community experiences, family structures–really anything that can impact thinking and behavior–particularly of youths’.
Hip-hop therapy, he said, “deconstructs the words themselves, and also helps express futures and goals in the lyrics.”
Naturally, Latterner–himself an emcee under the name KON Sci in a Wilmington group called MindsOne–hears a bit of leeriness from the traditional psychology world as to the merits of the approach.
“There is skepticism because I think most people just have this view of what rap music is and what hip-hop music is and it’s just what’s sort of shown on MTV, on BET or through the radio, and to the lay person it just sounds like a bunch of misogyny and violence.”
But, he noted, a lot of kids out there listen to that stuff exactly, making for a “beautiful” way to start conversations about what they might be going through–not an unimportant component of the healing process.
If the misogynistic or violent rap is on a younger client’s playlist, “Then let’s check it out, let’s listen to it and let’s talk about it,” Latterner said, adding that just ignoring it can perpetuate issues.
Hip-hop therapy is, for the most part, if not completely, client-focused.
The man who coined the phrase, Edgar Tyson, an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Social Service of Fordham University, posed that rap music can be a tool like no other to reach certain youths who could benefit from therapy but aren’t experiencing the best outcomes with traditional starting points.
Latterner, who connected with hip-hop culture while growing up in Washington, D.C., applied that line of thinking in a clinical internship he did at the Boys & Girls Homes of North Carolina at Lake Waccamaw. He put hip-hop therapy to work and said he documented positive effects.
“The effectiveness sort of transcended all the numbers,” he said. “The effects on self-esteem, on confidence, new ways of thinking.
“In my eyes,” he continued, “therapy is just trying to help a client think critically, with new ways of thinking, and thinking about the ways the world works.”
It’s in “deconstructing themes–themes of pride, of violence, just all these things that [young clients are] maybe thinking about day to day,” he said. “I’d like to think hip-hop therapy at least has some sort of effect on the way they think and approach situations.”
Now with his master’s degree, Latterner is soon to begin supervising a day treatment program in the area for youths dealing with anger issues–none warranting juvenile detention or psychiatric residential placement, but including kids who have some behavioral difficulty at school or at home and could use some guidance.
Hip-hop therapy will be on his belt.
In the meantime, Latterner is considering some of the encouragement his UNCW professors have given him to secure his doctorate at some point.
He’s in turn encouraged UNCW to introduce some sort of exploratory hip-hop course.
Feeling the therapeutic properties himself, his KON Sci persona and MindsOne continue to produce music and perform upon the opportunity (and they’ve covered ground in a national sense; listen here).
More immediate on his professional goal-top is becoming a fully licensed clinical social worker.
But it’s all hand in hand.
“I am now seeing this big light that’s wanting me to continue to sort of blend my passion for music with these other sort of career and academic endeavors,” he said. “That’s sort of where I’m headed.”