As many in recovery from abuse and other sources of trauma are aware, the period of healing can be a long uphill battle. Not only can it take up to a few years to systematically erase lasting streaks of psychological damage, each individual case needs a unique blend of the right treatments. Through the progression of psychological research, the most effective course of action has been shown to be a balance between medication and therapy. While this may seem like a simplistic combination, therapy is an umbrella of varied specialized methods.
When most people imagine therapy, the cliché scene of a venting patient sprawled out on a couch while an older professional listens and nods typically comes to mind. However, therapeutic strategies have split and multiplied into a diversified field all their own. Cognitive therapies are the most common, teaching participants a set of useful ways of redirecting thoughts to influence emotions and behaviors. However, some of the most innovative developments in therapy have been the exploration of alternative mediums and experiences in order to affect a person’s thinking, feelings and actions.
A major, defined methodology within this experiential movement has been dubbed expressive arts therapy, headed by counselor and author Cathy Malchiodi. The term is defined as the utilization of creative arts, such as drawing, dance, music and others as a form of therapy . This line of treatment has shown promising results for various groups in some kind of recovery and has consequently been integrated into the curriculum of many healthcare centers around the world. In fact, when specifically adapted for those in the midst of trauma, expressive arts therapies have been a helpful tool for reconnecting sensory and declarative memories of abuse and in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
One branch of expressive arts therapies, music therapy, gained similar waves of attention after both World War I and World War II through the pioneering treatment of trauma in veterans. As of now, more than 70 colleges and universities provide music therapy programs. This form of therapy caters to different areas of the brain that are responsible for different, but connected processes and allows victims to develop new neurological pathways around damaged areas of the mind. By bypassing the more analytical thoughts that trigger stressful memories, participants can deal with trauma in the same deeply emotional way that they experience it. Overall, this prepares people to address their issues with a durable amount of understanding and expression.
This therapy of melody and rhythm may sound similar to casually enjoying one’s favorite album or playing an instrument in one’s spare time, but the treatment is scientifically unique. The administration of music is intentional and aims to lessen or alleviate anxiety by forming a guiding relationship between the afflicted person, the therapist and the music. Through the concentrated avoidance or control of arousal and external stimuli among traumatized individuals, the therapy employs music to accomplish non-music objectives.
For those suffering from PTSD or immense trauma as a result of abusive or violent events, there are some guidelines to take note of before undergoing music therapy. First of all, there is not a single type of music that magically erases all anxiety. Evidence has shown that a person’s receptiveness to music is primarily dependent on personal preference. Therapists typically play music without spoken lyrics as the language may stimulate certain trains of thought that can subsequently trigger a stressful episode. In addition, clients with coexisting disorders that elicit psychosis or have problems regulating their expression should not listen to evocative music that may inspire powerful imagery or emotions.
The traumatized mind is in a perpetual state of alertness, predominantly due to the imbalance of one’s survival instincts. These expressive therapies use creativity in order to raise a victim’s sense of safety and resilience, while also maintaining a healthy level of awareness of one’s changing physical and mental states. Music, art and other creative activities also grant victims long-term coping ability to combat the effects of trauma even after therapy.
If you or someone you love struggles with trauma, has a related disorder or would benefit from therapy, you can speak with one of our Sovereign Health of Arizona representatives online or call 866-598-5661 for more information about our treatment programs.
Written by Sovereign Health Group writer Lee Yates