Synthesis Sunday: Music, Music Therapy and Trauma: International Perspectives

Last week, I realized that I did the unforgivable - I published my Synthesis Sunday link without the reference. I will try my best not to do that again. It is now affixed to the bottom of this post.

My reading this week has taken me into the second half of the first chapter of the text, Music, Music Therapy and Trauma: International Perspectives. This chapter, written by Julie Sutton, offers some of the background needed to move further into the book.

I particularly appreciated the outline of "post-traumatic echo" found on page 27-28. One of the things that many of us forget is that when we live in the world, constantly hooked into media streams and with news at our fingertips is that we are exposed to traumatic experiences that are not actually happening to us. Even when these experiences do not happen to us personally, the way we access information and the way we are exposed to those experiences have an effect on how we process the situations. 

I work with people who have experienced personal trauma. Many of my clients are also affected with trauma due to exposure to other events. Often, they do not know how to express their reactions or process their emotions in any of the traumatic situations that they encounter. There is no set prescription for how to help clients through their trauma responses which complicates the matter a bit more as well.

I do not do as much trauma processing in my music therapy sessions as I think I could. This is due to several things - first, most of my sessions are in large groups, and I feel that making clients share trauma in these large groups can be re-traumatizing. Second, there is no set time for clients to remain in treatment at the facility. I do not have any guarantees that we can process through traumatic experiences in an uncertain amount of time. Third, I am continuously learning more and more about how others do this type of music therapy - I do not feel extremely comfortable with the treatment philosophy referred to in the book. I am getting more comfortable, but that is still a hurdle for me as I am reading and trying to interpret what is happening in the examples provided.

One of the things that this text is teaching me is that my feelings of secondary trauma are real and must be addressed in some way. Putting this into a personal perspective, I find myself constantly traumatized by news coverage and by the experiences that my clients bring into the music therapy setting. I can protect myself in some ways, but I cannot shield myself from every situation and thought. This is important to acknowledge and to work within and through. I can certainly see the importance of clinical supervision and personal counseling in this instance - there are many different emotions, feelings, and responses that emerge when working with persons who have to work through their own histories. A therapist cannot be there for the client when he or she is working through his or her own issues during the session.

This is an emotionally draining book - I am thinking deeply about trauma, about my clients and the lives they have led and will move on to lead, about society as a whole, and about music therapy both in general and in specific. I anticipate that this book will lead me into reading more and more about music therapy and about how I can develop as a therapist to benefit my clients. Isn't that what books are supposed to do? Challenge our thoughts and preconceived notions? Force us into growth? I think so.

Thank you, Julie Sutton, for writing this text. I look forward to reading more about this topic - as fast or slow as I can handle it!


Sutton, J. (Ed.). (2002). Music, music therapy and trauma: International perspectives. London: Jessica Kingsley Publications.


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