Therapy is…


a contemporary approach to mental health treatment that utilizes Hip-Hop culture as a therapeutic medium. Rooted in the social work tradition, HHT is a strengths-based, culturally competent framework focused on fitting the model to the client. Although Hip-Hop has always fundamentally been therapeutic, much like the creative process itself, Tyson (1998) was the first to coin the phrase “Hip-Hop therapy” and systematically integrate the culture into a mental health setting. In 1996, while working in a residential facility for abused and homeless youth in Miami-Dade county, Tyson (1998) was inspired to incorporate the culture he and his clients identified with into his approach as a social worker. Upon witnessing profound results, Tyson decided to formally study the model’s implementation, which would later be expounded upon in his pioneering article in 2002.


After conducting his initial study in 1997, Tyson presented his model at the 30th Annual Conference of the National Association of Black Social Workers in 1998 (Tyson, 2002). Tyson (1998) would also present that year at the 20th Annual Symposium for the Association for the Advancement of Social Work with Groups, which would serve as a guide for Ciardiello’s (2003) innovative implementation of HHT, where the therapeutic act of creating different aspects of the culture was introduced to the literature. According to Tyson (2002), the most significant finding of his exploratory study was that most of the youth expressed the desire to create their own songs to share and discuss in group, which he would then facilitate. Ciardiello (2003) effectively built off of this implication for further research, as have several others since.

Although Tyson’s (1998) intervention focused specifically on rap music, he emphasized that it “must be understood as one component and within the larger context of the hip hop culture,” which he referred to as the “central mechanism of HHT” (2002, p. 134). Built within his founding model is the understanding that the music is but one artifact of a much larger culture and therefore cannot be analyzed in isolation. This is a key distinction that separates HHT from other rap music interventions, such as Elligan’s (2000) contemporary Rap Therapy.

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Hip-Hop therapy represents the prospective inclusion of each cultural facet into the therapeutic process (Tyson, Hall, & Montero, 2016). Based on this understanding of the Hip-Hop gestalt, Hall began developing his Hip-Hop Expressive Arts Therapy (HEAT) model in 2011 under the tutelage of Dr. Tyson, drawing parallels between Hip-Hop therapy and expressive arts therapy. Expressive arts therapy is a synthesis of the expressive or creative arts therapies (music, poetry, dance, art, etc.), and its intermodal nature distinguishes it as an entity separate from the sum of its parts. It is characterized by the purposeful use of various artistic mediums in treatment, transitioning freely between forms of expression to aid in deeper exploration and promote individual growth, community development and transformative healing (IEATA, 2017).

Within the framework of Hip-Hop therapy, HEAT emphasizes the inherent inseparability of Hip-Hop’s cultural components. It also seeks to elucidate the overlap between elements and the importance of incorporating diverse modes of sensory experience for the sake of therapeutic efficacy (Tyson, Hall, & Montero, 2016). For example, when writing, recording and performing a song, or partaking in what Hall (2013) refers to as Recording and Performing Arts Therapy (RAP Arts Therapy), an individual is engaging in various expressive mediums, from poetry and music to drama and movement. A demonstration of this intentional use of the interplay of the arts (i.e. poetry, music, drama, movement, film) can be seen in the music video created with a studio participant at the end of the first school year of Hall’s current program (Wasted Youth, 2014).


Hall is working on publishing a preliminary study detailing the theory behind HEAT and the results of its implementation, which will be an abbreviated version of a chapter he was contributing to Dr. Tyson’s textbook on Hip-Hop therapy. Dr. Tyson passed before the book was complete, and Hall hopes to publish it on his behalf in the near future with the help of his family and loved ones.