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Music Therapy for Traumatized Children

By June Naureckas, CEI Intern

Although school-aged children (ages 5-12) react to trauma differently from adults, their most likely symptoms are predictable and well-documented. According to the National Center for PTSD, children who have been traumatized are less likely than adults to have flashbacks or gaps in their memory but are equally prone to hyper vigilance. They imagine they can see the next traumatic event coming as a means to cope with a random world.

The Center’s research shows that children who have been abused often have problems with negative emotions such as fear, worry, anger, and sadness. They struggle with low self-esteem, feelings isolation, and an inability to trust others. These symptoms are debilitating, but they can be effectively managed with music therapy.

General Benefits of Music Therapy Communal and individual music-making and music appreciation can help trauma victims both in formal settings, like music therapy, and as informal hobbies. Expressive arts therapies (music, writing, reading) can act as ‘resource replacement’ for emotional or psychological resources that have been depleted by trauma and stress (Garrido et al., 2015).

According to the American Music Therapy Association, general benefits of music therapy include:

  • Improved perception and differentiation of feelings’

  • Decreased anxiety, improved ability to self-sooth when activated

  • Improved ability to recognize and cope with psychological triggers

  • Better able to verbalize thoughts and feelings.

Music Therapy and Trauma According to a 2006 report on music therapy in crisis situations, music therapy is well-suited as treatment for trauma because:

  • It serves as a non-verbal outlet for trauma-related emotions that are difficult to express verbally

  • It allows for positive, active participation in one’s own treatment

  • It fosters ’emotional intimacy with peers, families, coworkers’

  • It leads to positive physiological changes, including lower blood pressure, reduced heart rate, and relaxed muscle tension.

Seattle Music Therapy, a music therapy education and outreach group, suggests that children who have been traumatized can especially benefit from music therapy because music therapy provides structure and familiarity while allowing for freedom of expression. The safe and structured environment created by music therapy allows children to process and discuss their trauma; this setting is ideal to reduce anxiety and bring predictability back to a traumatized child’s world. Communal music-making also helps develop a

Caveats Music as a therapy is not equally effective for all participants. It appears that type of music interacts with one’s emotional mindset and that results vary according to the emotional tenor of the music as well. One study found that adolescent girls who listen to music as a coping strategy tend to have lower levels of depression than their female peers who don’t use this coping strategy, but adolescent boys who listen to music to cope tend to experience higher-than-average depression (Miranda & Cleas, 2009). Temperament also matters regardless of gender: listening to sad music improves the mood of people who reflect on their problems, but worsens the mood of people who tend to ruminate or worry (Garrido, Baker, Davidson, Moore, & Wasserman, 2015).


American Music Therapy Association. (2006). Music therapy in response to crisis and trauma.

Garrido, S., Baker, F. A., Davidson, J. W., Moore, G., & Wasserman, S. (2015). Music and trauma: The relationship between music, personality, and coping style. Frontiers in Psychology, 6.

Miranda D., & Claes M. (2009). Music listening, coping, peer affiliation and depression in adolescence. Psychol. Music 37, 215’“233. doi.10.1177/0305735608097245

Seattle Music Therapy (n.d.). Crisis and trauma care. Seattle Music Therapy website.

National Center for PTSD. (2007). PTSD in Children and Teens. U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs.


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