Music Therapy and Trauma


Music Therapy and Trauma
While no one wants to recognize that any could hurt a child, there are many children who need help because of trauma they have experiences. Childhood trauma can interrupt typical development and can create post-traumatic stress responses including aggression, impulse control, anxiety, increased hyperawareness, social withdrawal etc. Trauma can happen over a period of time or once,
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be a result of trauma and it is often treated with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which can decrease symptoms of PTSD through understanding the behaviors and learning what to do when PTSD behaviors occur.
Talk therapies are often the “go-to” for children/adolescents who have experienced trauma. However, talk therapy alone is often ineffective for these individuals; especially when the child or adolescent is also facing cognitive or developmental disabilities. In general, children have trouble understanding and processing trauma and the new behaviors that follow. For many children/adolescents, it is easier to express and process their experiences through art or music as they may not have the words or know how to describe their experiences.
Music therapy can help children, adolescents, and families who have experienced trauma. Since music is naturally inviting to children/adolescents of all levels of developmental functioning, music therapy could be a preferred method for children/adolescents to express and process their traumatic experiences. Music therapy can also focus on a child’s strengths and provide an opportunity for empowerment while dealing with the underlying trauma. Relationships created within music therapy can be fostered and create and opportunity for positive attachment and building trust.
In the article “Music Therapy and Complex Trauma: A Protocol for Developing Social Reciprocity” by Hussey, Reed, Layman, and Pasiali, music therapy was provided in a residential setting for children/adolescents who experienced trauma. This article focused on individual treatment for socialization. Instrument instruction and improvisation with the music therapist on keyboard, drums, and voice were used to enhance the children’s’ ability to ask for help, manage frustration, and discuss the music relationship. Once these goals were completed, the music therapist moved onto music therapy for social goals and to encourage the participating child to open up about the trauma. Lyric discussion of a song chosen by the therapist (with themes of strength and hope) was used in the final sessions before moving onto child directed music instruction on an instrument of their choosing to transition their improved socialization skills into the general environment.
Through these music interventions, the researchers concluded that a highly structured treatment plan (like the one used in this study) focusing on trust and engagement, social awareness, and social reciprocity may help address many needs of a traumatized child. For more information on how music therapy can help your child, please visit

Jessica Schlabach, MM, MT-BC