The therapeutic process adopting music to expose, deal with, and heal trauma caused by sexual abuse explores—nonexclusively—the nature of the trauma, the function of the therapeutic process, the role of the therapist, and applications of music. Music therapy that draws from interdisciplinary perspectives and used with clinical perception is essential in establishing an evolving, musically mediated therapeutic relationship, especially in cases where “the growth of mind and meaning is devastated at its core by early relational trauma,” as such cases where the person is sexually abused as a child.
The role that modern music therapy plays in addressing and exploring sexual trauma is deeply tethered on our brain structure and our innate musical ability, which can survive signiﬁcant neurological trauma and impairment. It is defined as “a systematic process of intervention wherein the therapist helps the client(s) to achieve health, using musical experiences and the relationships that develop through them as dynamic forces of change.”
In improvisational music therapy, the process is systematic: "purposeful, organized, methodical, knowledge-based, and regulated." For example, improvisation can help construct or reconstruct a traumatized abused person’s—in this case, a child—healthy capacity for being and relating, imagining, and thinking, in “highly adaptive ways to create interpersonal
experiences bringing organization and coherent moments of feeling and living in one’s
own body.” Through music, “these primary experiences of self and other can begin to be explored, from which a coherent sense of self, a sense of continuity of self-experience and physical and emotional body boundaries, may grow.”
It is also important to note that as with each trauma, each person’s experience is unique—so does each therapeutic relationship. The music therapist’s role is key to creating a space that fosters trust and allows therapeutic change and growth through ways that best serve their patients. In her published article Music Therapy with Sexually Abused Children, Jacqueline Robarts of Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Centre (UK) have written about the case of Sally, who was sexually abused as a child. Robarts recounted her music therapy sessions with Sally, where she described “recreative processes that were set in motion to help repair the damage done to the child during the formative stages of her development; how the medium of music played a vital role in helping her recover – or rather build – a bodily, emotional and mental sense of self. I have emphasized the potency of music and musical engagement from psychobiological and developmental points of view.” She specifically cited poiesis, which is creative-constructive change, in music therapy, which was instrumental in the process. She notes that “it is the art of listening at the root of clinical musical perception and action; being tuned into the right wavelengths or ﬁelds of working, from moment to moment, from session to session.”
Music therapists play a key role in a sexual abuse survivor’s recovery and healing. Katurah Christenbury, a teacher and music therapist at the Appalachian State University’s Institute for Health and Human Services asserts that those who want to work on the field to address traumatized populations need to “have a strong sense of self, and the ability to be able to empathize with another.” She adds, “We must learn more about the cultures of our clients to better understand, serve, and sympathize/empathize with them before pursuing our own therapeutic agendas.” The knowledge and awareness that trauma manifests for different people in different ways is essential, including “being open and accepting of each person’s journey, religious beliefs, views of humanity –– especially if they are different from one’s own.” Lastly, she reminds, “being patient; trusting the process of healing; and going at the client’s pace” – these are all important when working with traumatized clients.
Live Music Tutor offers music therapy lessons for sexual trauma survivors. We serve hospitals, long-term care facilities, nursing homes, active adult communities, hospice care, and others. Sign up and schedule a lesson today.
● Amir, D. (2004). Giving Trauma a Voice: The Role of Improvisational Music Therapy in Exposing, Dealing with and Healing a Traumatic Experience of Sexual Abuse. Music Therapy Perspectives, 22(2), 96–103. doi: 10.1093/mtp/22.2.96
● Robarts, J. (2006). Music Therapy with Sexually Abused Children. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 11(2), 249–269. doi: 10.1177/1359104506061418
● Bruscia, K. E. (2014). Defining music therapy.
● Weidlein, B. (2018, February 13). Music Therapy Addresses Trauma – Careers That Change Lives. Retrieved from https://majoringinmusic.com/music-therapy-addresses-trauma/.