Post-traumatic Stress Disorder is something that those in the military often find themselves having to cope with when they return to civilian life. This is a problem that's especially difficult to cope with, since it can often go undetected and undiagnosed for years.
One perhaps unlikely remedy comes in the form of music therapy, which is assuming a growing role in the treatment of PTSD. It's being used not as a replacement for traditional therapy, but as a complement to it. But exactly what does music therapy have to offer?
In 2019, the House of Commons Defence Committee issued a report which claimed that the amount of money being spent on veteran support was scandalously low. They noted that PTSD was often being misdiagnosed, since the services being offered by the NHS were insufficiently specialised toward care for veterans.
This is a finding echoed by legal firm Bolt Burdon Kemp. "We have come across situations where military doctors have misdiagnosed PTSD for 'battle stress', 'anger management', 'alcohol misuse' and even 'personality disorder'," claimed a spokesperson for the military solicitors.
"The delay in diagnosis inevitably prolongs the commencement of treatment. This can often lead to the development of other co-morbid and social complications such as depression, anxiety, unemployment, homelessness and family breakups, which can mask the condition and make it more difficult to treat and much harder to integrate into civilian life."
So, how can music therapy offer a solution? And what is music therapy, anyway?
Put simply, it's the practice of prescribing music in a therapeutic context. Specifically, it might be used to help a patient deal with cognitive, attentional, emotional, behavioural, and communication problems.
Music therapy can help patients to engage with traumatic memories, which is why it's of particular value to military patients. Trauma can literally shrink the language and memory centres of the brain, but the right program of music therapy can combat these effects.
The brain is among the most mysterious objects in the universe, and our understanding of exactly how it works is incomplete. What we can say is that music tends to help us to regulate stress hormones like cortisol. Creative musical practices, like performance and singing help to produce a rush of oxytocin – and there are considerable social benefits, too.
The psychological benefits of music aren't new to the military. For thousands of years, drums and chants have been used to develop a sense of unity and direction. Military musicians are now taking on a different role – helping to raise morale and provide a new creative and social outlet for service personnel coming back into civilian life.