Researchers call for more examination of music therapy

Psychological trauma is defined by the DSM as “‘actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence,’ whether personally experienced or witnessed, or experienced vicariously.” Three key aspects are prevalent in trauma: shock, wound, and a lasting effect. Untreated trauma has a negative effect on attention, memory, and cognition.

Effective means of working through trauma are still being developed. In a paper published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers and psychologists argue for leaders in global health to treat music therapy as a legitimate method of therapy, pointing to its effectiveness with trauma. In order to gain their support, researchers argue for more studies with factual data. Art-based therapies have proven mental health benefits in individuals affected by trauma. Music therapy plays an important role in alleviating trauma through “music therapists, community music making programs, or individual music listening.”

Art therapy has been widely accepted as a feasible form of therapy, but there is a distinctive lack of empirical data to support its effectiveness. People benefit from reading and writing. Memorizing poems, specifically ones that are relevant to an individual’s situation, has been found to provide a sense of safety and acknowledgement of anxiety. This promotes an individual to “find one’s voice,” which develops into processing trauma and traumatic symptoms.

Researchers point to factual evidence gathered case studies across the globe. In the wake of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, over 7000 children and adults were provided music therapy using an assortment of techniques. These included “musical improvisation, songwriting, singing, sharing stories, and relaxing with music.” In another instance, music therapy was implemented after a tornado, where children were able to write a song about the tornado.

In all of these case studies, music therapy allows people to recognize and process their emotions in a healthy manner. Music therapy has many benefits, including “mood improvement, self expression, catharsis, facilitating grieving, relaxation, reflection, socialization, community building, [and]stress reduction.” By allowing individuals to regain their sense of self, and the agency that comes with it, music therapy empowers them to reflect on traumatic experiences.

It is noted in the article that individuals have their own coping style, and that different kinds of art therapy — writing, reading, painting, music — work for different people. Supporting music therapy leads to more people able to receive the help they need to overcome their trauma. Researchers calling for more empirical evidence will assist in making music therapy programs more readily available to more people.