As a parent of four children, nothing scares me more than experiencing my children suffer from a traumatic event. For our daughter, it was a series of unfortunate events that led her to mental health challenges. It began with our family move from our home during a renovation to my in-laws home. At the time, we as parents never realized how dependent my daughter was on a schedule and security. As soon as this security was taken away from her, she felt insecure about many things. Including, trusting anything anyone would say or do.
About 2 weeks after our move, my daughter became very angry, lashing out quickly at others. She was always crying without being consoled. Desperate for attention and affection. She stopped sleeping, stopped growing, and she was hypersensitive to everything. Due to the hypersensitivity, the next event threw her over the edge. She got sick with a stomach virus and she was vomiting for 2 days with diarrhea and stomach cramps. Her stomach cramps lasted for some time. Someone told her, “It must have been something you ate.” From that point on, she didn’t dare to eat anything, unless it was a food she trusted. Mainly, pancakes or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We took her to a doctor who prescribed a medication for her stomach cramps and we had to retrain her brain to trust food again.
Because of my personal love for music and the therapeutic effects it has had on me, we were able to use music at home along with professional therapy sessions. We were able to teach our daughter skills she needs to successfully cope with her mental struggles.
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What is Music Therapy?
According to the American Music Therapy Association, “Music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to carry out individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. It is the structured use of music to help people of all ages in times of need. A well-established music therapy healthcare professional uses carefully selected music and music interventions to discuss physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs. While music therapy will not cure or solve problems brought on by a crisis, music therapy can help children and adults in crisis learn and use positive coping skills and express difficult feelings and emotions. Because music therapy is a powerful and non-invasive medium, unique outcomes are possible.”(See this link here)
Music Therapy has been proven to have significant effects on relaxation, respiration rate, pain reduction and anxiety levels. Our bodies are designed to “fight, flight, or freeze…then relax.” But when children are traumatized in some way that causes them to be in this constant state of a stress response, they forget how to relax their bodies and minds. They become aggressive, have difficulty sleeping, are impulsive and struggle in school.
In a detailed report put together by the American Music Therapy Association, there are studies ranging from 1986-2008 that specifically entail the physical effects music therapy has on traumatized people. The outcomes were:
- reduced muscle tension
- decreased anxiety/agitation
- enhanced interpersonal relationships
- enhanced self-expression and self-awareness
- improved perception and differentiation of feelings
- improved ability to titrate abreaction, self-soothe, recognize and cope with traumatic triggers
- improved self-image/increased self-esteem
- increased verbalization, improved group cohesiveness
- increased motivation
About the Music
We as human beings have an innate connection to music. When we suffer traumatic experiences our musicality survives. There is a systematic process of intervention that the therapist uses to help the patient achieve health. They use musical experiences and the relationships that develop through them as dynamic forces of change. Did you know that musical expression is similar to human expression? There is the tone of our voices when we are not only singing but speaking, laughing and crying. Musical properties put out an involuntary sympathetic field of relatedness due to the physical laws of music, such as wavelength and pulse. Which may explain why we so innately use phrases such as “Being on the same wavelength,” “feeling off key,” or “you don’t sound quite yourself today.”
Music offers a way the traumatized child can gain the cohesiveness that they need because the sense of relating to others has been deconstructed. Their sense of separateness and togetherness is confused. It also offers experiences of “freedom from structure creating a sense of space and time to be alone, while in the company of others.” Music therapy works with the senses and the inner movements of the self that come into immediate expression. In playing a musical instrument, even plucking the strings of a guitar, one experiences an extension of oneself. (Reference here)
10 Year Old Boy
Victim of Physical, Emotional and Sexual Abuse
This case is about a boy who suffered a lifetime of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. His treatment consisted of singing and music relaxation allowing him to get access to his own voice and create a small repertoire of imagery skills. This boy was then able to begin demonstrating signs of self-monitoring and self-control over explosive behavior.
The patient was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder due to the severe physical and emotional abuse, and the sexual abuse by his biological family and foster family. He would have assaultive melt-downs that required restraint. He also needed auditory interventions based on auditory triggers.
After a few sessions, the patient was able to de-escalate his potential aggressive behavior by singing with staff members. And later, his self-confidence grew by his ability to sing informally with one or two peers.
11 Year Old Girl
Victim of Sex Abuse, Emotional Abuse, and Neglect
This case describes a girl who suffered from paternal sex abuse and familial emotional abuse and neglect. Her treatment consisted of improvisation, vocal reflection, operetta, and song-poems. After her sessions, she was able to display trust and relinquishment of control.
Initially, she was only able to express anger and rage through music. But, eventually, she was able to explore other emotions. She began playing defined rhythms and constant harmonies, but it transformed into playing more freely and experimentally, which means she was less eager to please.
Dr. Joanne Loewy is the Director of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at New York’s Beth Israel Hospital. Her career is dedicated to saving lives by using music to reproduce the auditory environment in the womb. According to her studies, she said:
“By re-creating a womb-like environment through sound and music, music therapy has been shown to deepen infant sleep-state, support infant self-regulation, assist in the stabilization of breathing and heart rates, enhance parent/infant bonding, sooth irritability, re-enforce feeding/sucking rhythms and weight gain, and promote a sense of safety during painful procedures” faced by many preemies.”
“Historically, we thought premature infants were best left alone in a quiet, closed incubator with no stimulation. But more recently, we’re seeing that the right kinds of stimulation — particularly live, interactive music — can enhance babies’ neurological function and increase their quiet-alert state. . . . The more we can regulate the sound environment, the better they’re going to fare.”
“Lots of times you see parents bopping the baby up and down on their lap, and there’s no purpose to it,” Dr. Loewy said. “You don’t feel the music intention as much as if you have a song that a parent has chosen.” If parents did not specify, researchers used “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Tempos were coordinated with babies’ vital signs, indicated not only by monitors but also by baby eye movements and its chest’s rise and fall.”
Children of Palestine
Sounds of Palestine is an organization geared toward teaching children ages 5-9 how to play instruments, such as the violin, cello, and clarinet. In this war zone, children are constantly suffering traumatic events; watching their peers die, watching their families get shot, daily bombings or tear gas. Since 2012, this organization has been helping these traumatized children get the connections they need to survive emotionally. Some of these children have advanced so much in their musical abilities, that they have been able to attend international competitions to win awards for their talents. These children are able to feel happy in a place of much hate and contention. The organization has published a book, “Creative Interventions with Traumatized Children.”
In Music We Trust
There is an organization that I’ve also been personally impressed with. In Music We Trust in an organization completely focused on helping people with mental illnesses understand the power of the healing properties of music. 50% of their proceeds go to The Mind to raise awareness of mental illnesses and help others get the help they need. I love their message! Aiden has a live video on Mondays to just chat with everyone who has depression or anxiety. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. You won’t regret it! Aiden is awesome!
I have often felt the amazing power of music in my life as well as the lives of my family. There have been many times that the anger in our home can be alleviated, simply by turning on soft, soothing music. We’ve been loving our Alexa device. It makes it so easy to just tell Alexa to turn on our favorite music. That’s honestly what we use our Alexa for the most. If the tension gets a little high in our house, we can tell Alexa to turn on relaxing music. And she listens. She’s the only one that listens well right now in our house. 😉
My daughter was able to find music that spoke volumes to her soul, which allowed her to explore ways to help us understand what was frustrating her. Before her therapy, she was always angry, sad, explosive, tired and scared. After therapy, she began singing, dancing, talking and eating!
Music therapy doesn’t have to be for the traumatized person. We use the music we have access to every day, in order to be enlightened, strengthened, soothed, comforted, or enlivened. Because of the amazing effects it has on our minds, cells, and souls, music will be used to heal us until the end of time.
Do you have any experiences with music therapy? I would love to hear about your experience! You can send me a personal message, or comment below.