Music Therapy and Trauma: A Means for Healing and Growth

GriefEveryone experiences challenges in life. Sometimes these challenges can provide us with great opportunities for personal growth. Yet sometimes these challenges can prove to be traumatic. If left untreated or unacknowledged, these experiences can lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD can be debilitating because it has a physiological, mental, emotional, and social impact on a person. Even family members and others close to the person with PTSD can experience the effects of PTSD.

Music can be a beneficial means for healing from trauma, and can also lead to experiences of Posttraumatic Growth. Posttraumatic Growth is “positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or traumatic event.” Some reasons why music can be helpful are:

  • Music is a form of expression in which words aren’t necessary. Music is an experience that can bypass rational thoughts and defense mechanisms as it gets to the heart of the matter. This can be helpful when words are unavailable to the person who has undergone a traumatic experience. Music can give people a “voice,” even if they don’t have the words. This is especially true if the trauma occurred at a time when language was still developing.
  • Music adds another relational dimension to the therapeutic relationship. The effectiveness of therapy can be determined in part by the quality of the therapeutic relationship. With the use of music, the client can develop a relationship to the music, which can lead to feelings of safety and support. At the same time, the therapeutic alliance with the therapist can deepen through the use of music.
  • Music is a whole-brain activity. Our ears receive the musical stimulation, and our brains process it. Brain imaging shows that music has a vast neurological response in the brain. Included in this neural activation are the parts of the brain responsible for emotions and memories. The neuroplasticity of the brain allows for the making of new neural connections, which can lead to healing and growth. Music can help with this by allowing a person to create meaning from their traumatic experience.
  • Music is full sensory experience, in which we can have control over the sensory experience. We can turn the volume down or stop the music if it becomes too much. Likewise, our bodies can feel music and naturally respond to it. Music can also bring us into the present moment where we can gain awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and responses to our experience.

As a board-certified music therapist (MT-BC), I specialize in using music to help others achieve therapeutic goals and personal growth. As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I have additional experience in working with those who have experienced trauma. Contact me if you would like to know more about how my music therapy services could help you.