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How Music Therapists Are Working with Grief, Trauma, and Significant Loss

While our hearts yearn to embrace the world with unwavering optimism and peace, the stark realities we face make it challenging. People we deeply care about, along with countless others globally, grapple with the harrowing effects of trauma, wars, and profound disconnection.

As numerous individuals wrestle with the burdens of collective grief and personal pain, music therapists persistently strive to provide solace when words often fall short. In this blog post, we will delve into the catalysts that influence feelings of safety and explore the methods music therapists employ to assist their clients during periods of grief, trauma, and significant loss.

The Power of Music in Evoking Emotion

Jeff Clayton once remarked to Wayne Shorter, both renowned figures in the world of jazz music, “These days, there is more rhythm in our lives than harmony.” This statement captures the essence of our times. The cacophony of life frequently overshadows the connections, leaving many of us yearning for kindness and care. Throughout our lives, we are surrounded by a myriad of sounds, from the slamming of a door to a soft breath. The disparity between these auditory experiences shapes our perceptions, behaviours, emotions, and our feelings of safety.

What music therapists know is that the potency of music lies in its capacity to elicit emotions, both uplifting and distressing. Auditory catalysts are sounds, songs, or styles of music that rapidly induce an emotional response. An ‘Inspired Music Catalyst’ is experienced with a piece of music or sound that evokes strong feelings without any prior association. In contrast, an ‘Associated Music Catalyst’ relates to music that becomes intertwined with intense emotions due to a coinciding event.

As with our other senses, sound is processed in a part of our brains that also processes our emotions. During heightened moments of tragedy, sounds can become more sensitive and may intensify over time. A study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress revealed that collaborating with music therapists can effectively diminish PTSD symptoms. The rhythmic and melodic elements of music assist individuals in navigating traumatic memories (Carr, C., et al., 2016). Moreover, trauma survivors often resonate with music that reflects their emotional state, enabling them to face and process intricate emotions (Sutton, J. P., & De Backer, J., 2009).

Five Ways Music Therapists Use Music for Grief, Trauma, and Significant Loss:

  • Reflection and Processing: Using music to introspect and process emotions, facilitating catharsis.
  • Memory Anchoring: Associating positive memories with specific songs to act as comfort anchors during tough times.
  • Group Healing: Participating in group music sessions to cultivate a sense of community and collective healing.
  • Active Listening: Selecting music that aligns with one’s current emotional state, aiding in emotional processing.
  • Creation and Expression: Composing, singing, or playing an instrument as avenues for expressing and channelling emotions.

In difficult times, the significance of seeking supportive sanctuaries is paramount. We recognize that music therapists are just a small group within the mental health professions and that we are not accessible to everyone. However, our hope is that our work will continue to grow, and we can help bring our non-verbal means of communication and therapy to the forefront and help when and where ever we can.