What Is Trauma-Informed Music?

Several weeks ago, I helped perform a therapeutic concert in a residential facility that became a big help to the program staff of an institution I worked with. The program staff assisted the students in preparing for the songs. I trained musicians in how to provide a therapeutic concert experience, and the impact was remarkable. I found in this experiment that whereas the approach and burden of both trauma and trauma therapy is daunting and overwhelming, one can in fact find in a community of nurture and support a shared role that is a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. And, in the humility of taking on one part of the puzzle, one can find a part that is helpful without being overwhelmed by the whole thing.

I recently learned that a key to trauma recovery is to view life like an iceberg. On the surface we see the outward behavior. Often, people make judgments at this level alone, but there is so much more to discern. Under the surface, we see a level we call “emotional health.” We act because of how we feel. We act because of how we process life. But, there is even a deeper level than that. The bottom of the iceberg is “relational health.” Our relationships from the very beginning have lead us to our emotional state and to the behavior we show. Trauma informed music looks at this “iceberg” as a key filter and determinative grid as we bring music alongside of the life journeys and understandings we can find. By looking at life and trauma this way, we can in fact work in tandem with activities teams and in relationship with a community that is in fact processing trauma together. This relationship of music and community help both define the sphere and object of the trauma and its music.

In the fall of 2013, we are launching a five-format music environment research project. The five formats will reflect five aspects of music that we have in our environment, and should open the context for discussion, evaluation and planning of putting music in the environment:

First, some things true about all CDs:

1. These are copyright protected for the audience that is using them.
2. They are all instrumental and should not have any direct correlation with any existing song.
3. There are some research components that placed a high value in their make-up.
4. The key of these was based on days of research with an existing organized agency.
5. All music that has been researched and developed will depend upon an ongoing conversation and understanding about the overall nurture of the environment. Music is strong, but needs a strong social network that will define and implement its power.

DAWN/Our “Dawn” CD assumes that young people wake up in an atmosphere of restlessness and are seeking and searching for self-regulation in a non-regulatory home environment. “Dawn” takes their heart rate and their atmosphere and challenges it to stride forward in a joyful way.

MAINTAIN/Our “Maintain” CD assumes that young people have illusions and conflicts in the course of their school day that might need some “time out” to let the air breathe. This also is an upbeat CD in that it gives the kids a place for an energy charged environment.

BREEZE/Our “Breeze” CD assumes that kids are getting back into their environment of key nurture or lack of it. Because of the drama of re-entry and the fear that kids feel when they anticipate the change, they need an atmosphere of “returning” to that atmosphere that will help them self-regulate and start to stand.

FOCUS/Our “Focus” CD assumes that kids need more than a glorified white noise environment under the spoken voice…..like a movie soundtrack…..this CD can provide (50 bpm or less) a welcome foundation for the kids to go forward.

PEACE/Our “Peace” CD assumes that kids need to wind down. No distinct rhythms in this one and more of a “sleepy time” atmosphere. We have seen great usage of this CD in 2013 and will be creating offshoots of the theory and research that was placed in this CD.

Joe Hesh

1 thought on “What Is Trauma-Informed Music?

  1. I think you are very smart . Music should help in many ways. The words to so many hymns that I know always help bring me up after being down spiritually. You have made us al lv ery proud of your musical accomplishments. Your Mother and Dad are also.

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