FlowStory and The CREATE Research Lab

Dr. Raphael Travis, LCSW is a Professor and is the Master of Social Work (MSW) Program Director at Texas State University in the School of Social Work. He is a licensed clinical social worker and Executive Director of FlowStory, PLLC. Dr. Travis’s research, practice, and consultancy work emphasize healthy life course development, resilience, and civic engagement. He also studies the role of music and expressive arts, particularly Hip Hop culture, as a source of health and well-being for individuals and communities. Dr. Travis is also the author of the book, The Healing Power of Hip Hop and his research has appeared in a variety of peer-reviewed journals.

Dr. Travis is involved in numerous active projects, including the Collaborative, Research for Education, Art, and Therapeutic Engagement (CREATE) Lab at Texas State University, where he focuses on bringing together researchers, educators, and artists to investigate the educational, health, and therapeutic benefits of music and art engagement. He partners with experts in social work, public health, education, criminal justice, counseling, music therapy, and psychology to develop a more holistic, integrated understanding of the relationship between creative arts engagement and well-being for both individuals and communities. The CREATE Lab includes a music studio with professional quality music hardware and software. CREATE Lab projects and studio activities focus on facilitating academic, social, emotional, and physical well-being.

Dr. Travis facilitates numerous summer and year-long workshops designed to promote youth civic engagement and empowerment as pathways to well-being. One workshop series, “Music and Me Workshops” is a weekend program for high school students that runs throughout the year. The series seeks to help teens feel empowered as they create, explore, analyze, and otherwise express themselves in group activities using a full range of music equipment and technology. Students create original music and analyze lyrics each week, while collectively exploring culturally relevant themes related to youth development, equity, and justice in often marginalized populations. Topics have ranged from understanding the complexity of identity, colorism, and self-esteem across multiple cultures within a global context to examining sense of community, community resilience, and social change in a global context. The goal in all series is to facilitate empowerment as pathways to well-being.  

A central part of Dr. Travis’ work is translating research about youth development into practical strategies so social workers and clinicians can help clients improve their lives. In 2019, the applied research arm of the CREATE Lab used Hip Hop and Empowerment (HHE) and Therapeutic Beat Making (TBM) strategies together for the first time to promote youth development and reduce elevated depressive and anxiety symptoms. Participating youth learned the fundamentals of beat-making through the TBM lens and empowerment-based music engagement through the HHE lens. Research and published findings highlighted the value of screening and treatment of depression and anxiety among students during summer months, but also how creative arts like Hip Hop can be a valuable tool for improving mental health outcomes (Travis, 2019). The collaborative model, the research, and published findings were in cooperation with Dr. Gann of TFS. 

You can see Dr. Travis’ commitment to this research in The Summer Mixtape Camp series. “Mixtape Camp” is designed to support student mental health and combat “summer strain,” or the social and emotional stresses students experience during summer months when away from the relationships, structure, and support of the academic year. The program, a partnership with Dr. Ian Levy, works with scholars, artists, and practitioners to create a dynamic and fun environment for high school students to learn and grow. Using culturally relevant and evidence-based strategies campers learn about and use music and music-related tools to analyze, discuss, write, collaborate, record, and perform. Simultaneously, youth are helped to understand these activities through the lens of positive development over the life-course. The consistent question asks, “What does this mean for now and the long-term?” The Mixtape Camps, each year, have shown positive results in terms of decreased stress, anxiety, and depression for participants between the start and end of camp.

As Executive Director of FlowStory, PLLC, Dr. Travis leads a range of strategies that help professionals use music for better. He helps translate research into practical strategies that can be implemented across levels of intervention, from prevention to treatment. He works with educators, therapists, youth workers, and other professionals seeking to integrate Hip Hop into youth work strategies. The MUZUZE system from FlowStory brings together these strategies in ways that allow individuals to focus on self-improvement as much as community improvement for communities they value.

MUZUZE is not a curriculum, it is a research-based language and structure for organizing strategies of self and community improvement. It is a system of empowerment anchored in the Individual and Community Empowerment framework and in Hip Hop culture, meant for use throughout the life-course. Online and in-person training and consultancy are available and have been successful with individual educators, practitioners, community-based organizations, and school districts.

Dr. Travis’ work is not limited to kids and teens. Many practitioners using Hip Hop in a therapeutic context focus on youth. However, in the section that follows, we discuss a partnership that occurred between Dr. Travis and Aaron Rodwin. This collaboration focused on therapeutic uses of Hip Hop with homeless adults with serious mental illness

Next week…. TRF will share the final part in this series on Hip Hop Therapy.

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