Music Therapy As Treatment for Psychological Distress in Survivors Domestic Violence

Music: An Innovative Response to Domestic Violence

Hero image courtesy of NY Times.

Music therapists working in the area of domestic abuse and violence represent an emergent and growing professional group of talented individuals. The term domestic violence is the most recognized. However, this term has been widely criticized in its ability to mask dimensions such as gender and the power involved. It should be a well known fact that men can be victims and survivors of domestic violence as much as women. The stigma behind domestic violence needs to be understood as a mutual situation that can affect everybody. Music therapy can be used to heal trauma from all kinds of situations including domestic violence. This article will discuss how music therapy can help heal trauma and will discuss the following topics:

  • The therapeutic powers of sound
  • How music can help children who have witnessed domestic violence
  • The stigma surrounding domestic violence
  • Songwriting and domestic violence

The Therapeutic Powers of Sound

Can Music Heal Trauma?

Humanity is deeply connected through music. Music is a conduit to our most primal functions such as oxygen, food, and even our heartbeats. Songs often arrive to us discreetly on the backs of other cultural phenomena like movies, video games, cell phones, etc. Music therapy is one of the last remaining sanctions in the world where music serves the purpose of connecting humans to the root of basic human needs and truth. Sounds that register in our emotional brain, or the limbic system, can relate back to happiness as well as fear. The subliminal link of music and emotions can help to explain why music therapy and trauma treatment go hand in hand. 

Trauma survivors often have unbearable memories and flashbacks of the traumatic incident they’ve endured. This traumatic wound can lead to a number of physical and psychological disabilities such as difficulty learning, physical ailments, and dissociation. The notion of music as a healing agent began in the early 20th century after soldiers came home from World War I war suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Community musicians would travel to veteran hospitals and play for the emotionally and physically scarred soldiers. A profound effect was observed on both the physical and emotional level, and music therapy was thereby requested in all hospitals. This gives the answer that music can in fact heal trauma. 

Trauma therapy centers around the idea of reconnection with one’s self and others. Defense mechanisms at the moment of trauma respond as internal protectors. These mechanisms may have reacted perfectly in the moment, but are still active in the present. In order to dislodge the mind from the mechanisms and trauma, they have to be met, recognized, and disarmed slowly. Music allows us to connect readily with ourselves and overcome trauma because we are, in our essence, music. 

Music as a healer is an ancient idea and can be traced back to the Greeks. Image courtesy of What’s Up Media.

Healing the Invisible Wounds Left By Domestic Violence

How Can Music Help Children who were Exposed to Domestic Abuse?

Research suggests that children who have seen or experienced domestic abuse are more likely to feel unsafe in everyday situations. Even when they are not physically hurt themselves, they are still able to see, hear, and imagine what is happening to others or their loved ones. Most children are resilient but may need guidance in overcoming exposure to domestic abuse. Exposure can leave children feeling withdrawn, fearful, and depressed. These feelings can in turn sometimes lead to involvement in drugs, alcohol, and dysfunctional relationships. Music therapy offers a way to support children who have been robbed of their youth. Music can also be a healthy way to express repressed emotions. Music therapy can also be a way to assess whether healthy parenting skills have been developed as well as revealing fundamental family patterns that are not visible to outsiders. 

Music is a way to show parents what their children need. Image courtesy of Science Nordic.

The Stigma Surrounding Domestic Violence

How Social Stigmas Silence Domestic Violence Victims

Domestic violence victims endure a steady stream of abuse at home and bravely attempt to present a solid public image in the face of others. Many survivors stay silent in fear of how they will be treated. Both culturally and socially, victims are sensitive to the judgement they fear from others. When it comes to assessing perceptions of domestic abuse, research indicates that observers might be ready to assign levels of blame depending not only on the actions of the abuser but also of the abused. Continuing education and community awareness of the dynamics of domestic abuse can reduce the stigma that causes victims to suffer in silence. 

The world tells men that they can’t be victims of domestic violence. However, 1 in 10 men experience rape, physical violence/stalking by an intimate partner. Still, society discredits male victims saying that it’s not possible for them to experience domestic violence. Domestic violence has become so pervasive in our society that we have become desensitized to it. Domestic violence is no joke and should not be readily accepted as something that only happens to women. It happens to men too. 

Domestic violence does not discriminate and stigmas surrounding domestic violence needs to be broken. Image courtesy of Australian Jewish News

Music therapy can be a healthy option in dealing with many stressful situations and overcoming past trauma. Image courtesy of Incadence

Songwriting and Domestic Violence

Using Songwriting to Assist in the Healing Process for Domestic Survivors

Music therapy, like other creative works, can aid in expression and management of emotions and can contribute in healing. Songwriting can be thought of as a vehicle of expression and can help domestic abuse survivors release pent up feelings. Music therapists have found ways to combine the basic elements of music with the structure of song lyrics. Music therapists are then able to give their musically inexperienced clients the opportunity to put their own thoughts into a song. This is another reason why music therapy is so incredibly effective. At Incadence, music therapists work directly with their clients and can help aid in the songwriting and healing process. 

If you are a victim of domestic violence or know someone who is, don’t be afraid to reach out to Incadence. You will be paired with a music therapist who is the right fit for you!

Edited by Cara Jernigan on January 17, 2021

Haley Wisniewski
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