Hans Christian Andersen said “When words fail, music speaks”. Our world is full of choices. Parents world-wide are bombarded with these choices to help their child in the best way they can with the current information available, but despite our efforts the National Center for PTSD still reports about seven or eight out of every 100 people will likely have an encounter with Post-Traumatic-Stress at some point in their lives. (“Post-Traumatic”) While many seek out psychotherapy if symptoms persist long enough, other parents will choose the medication route for their children. When you’re a child, you depend upon your parents to take care of you. Are you going to question them if they tell you to take medicine that is supposed to make you feel better? I think not. Both sides, psychotherapy and medications, give reasons for effectiveness; however, the everyday parent can see the impending issues with going straight to medication without investigating other courses of treatment that are less harmful to a child. The trouble is, these types of medications have side effects with lasting properties attached to them. I propose an alternative. A refreshing and nontraditional concept known as Music Therapy, in which the child or adolescent can reduce their amount of anxiety with the use of musical instruments, singing, or playing on their own (137). Hanser reasons “that music therapy can help almost anyone willing to try it, since there are no obvious side effects, and it can be facilitated individually or in groups” (Eriksson 249). Although medications are a faster means to feel better, there are more effective treatments with less negative side effects in the long run using an alternative therapy method.
At the present time, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD as it is referred to, is known as and treated as an anxiety disorder, based on the DSM IV ( Pervanidou 632). In the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, a staggering 20% of children and teens are affected with mental health concerns (World Health Organization, 2001). Anxiety in children can display in a number of ways. However, for a PTSD diagnosis, the mired of symptoms arrive after some sort of traumatic life incident that usually includes but is not limited to death or injury that causes a debilitating amount of fear or powerlessness in the child, a catastrophic community disaster, or wartime situations. Additionally, these symptoms must also still be present at least four weeks after the event has occurred (632). Harvard Mental Health Letter states that they “have found that 40 percent of maltreated children are still suffering a year after they were first diagnosed” (“What are the Symptoms”).
When a child presents with this criteria, doctors will routinely encourage and prescribe sessions with a psychiatrist with the accompaniment of doses of an anti-depressant medication. Drugs such as Doxepin, has a seemingly long list of side effects for children and young adults. Much research is focused on the adult population while citing these results but the implication is the use of these medications run risks of adverse effects on the younger aged people (Porter, Sam 587). Also noted that “children, teenagers, and young adults who take antidepressants to treat depression or other mental illnesses may be more likely to become suicidal than those who do not take them to treat these conditions” (Doxepin 1). According to the Harvard Mental Health Letter “No medicine has proven consistently effective in controlled studies” (“What are the Symptoms” 8). While it is often believed medication will help almost immediately, that choice alone is not a complete picture of well-rounded mental healthcare. When used in conjunction with psychotherapy, medications serve as a less effort approach to feeling better. However, there can be numerous pharmacy visits to contend with as well as limited refills on the medication itself, which can hinder the recovery process if taking off work is an issue for the parent or remembering to call in the script ahead of time so that it is ready for pick up.
When music therapy is on the table for options to use with psychotherapy, it supplements what is happening in the talk therapy sessions with no side effects. Music therapy is based on the relationship with a professional in the field who has completed the required credentials. Known as a Music Therapist, they employ music as an intervention adapted for specific goals for the child whom has been affected by a trauma and their families. “Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people’s motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings” (Search “music therapy”). The American Music Therapy Association discloses a list of wonderful ways that music complements a healing environment, naming examples of patients listening to favorite songs, a pianist in the reception area, or nurses willing to play background music for patients. While this list builds up the aid of music with patients, it simply confirms that these approaches are for musical entertainment rather than therapy (“music therapy”).
For centuries, music has offered its benefits to people of all ages. Used at the fanciest of dinners with Kings and Queens, all the way down to the most intimate moments of a new mother with her baby, music has the ability to speak to hearts and lift spirits. So, it stands to reason that something this grand would be included into the medical realm as a viable treatment option.
Music therapy compliments psychotherapy beautifully. While a patient is struggling with the talking side of their healing process, the range of options that music therapy offers are as numerous as the individuals it serves to treat. Patients who are not able to communicate what they are feelings internally can choose to be “vocal” with instruments of their choice or compose a song with lyrics to speak for them (139; ”Music Therapy and other”).
With a trusted guide known as the music therapist, a child has freedoms to explore new ways of handling their trauma. According to John Stegemann, the patients’ experience will be broken down into four strategies with the intent of being used separately or in a combination for the child’s success. Strategy Improvisation employs the child’s spontaneity using or seeing various types of instruments such as a piano, drums or symbols, and stringed choices. The patient can play alongside the therapist or have their sounds mimicked back to them. Composition offers songwriting or rhythm sessions for expression. This strategy is helpful for identifying the internal struggle as well as being an avenue for creative release for the individual. Re-creating approaches are opportunities to learn an already favorite song in a personalized manner. Listening or receptive goals are to promote relaxation or responses while hearing the music being played live or recorded (qtd. in Music Therapy). Each tactic has a purpose, but since there is not a one-size-fits all mode for therapeutic approaches, it is important that the patient connects with their therapist so treatment can be specific yet individualized to ensure accomplishment of the patients goals.
Often a plea for music therapy comes when other attempted solutions were not successful or the patient is dissatisfied with the side effects (Eriksson 250). When this negative perception is the entrance area for the patient into music therapy, it stresses the importance of development within the music therapist relationship and the child. A music therapist is not a music teacher. In order to assume the title of music therapist, one must be well educated from an accredited university attaining a bachelor’s degree at a minimum, with a “1200 hour requirement of clinical training, as well as a supervised internship”. Once this is achieved, the American Music Therapy Association explains that the scholar is then eligible to take the Music Therapist Board Certification exam, another requirement for admissibility in practicing. (Search “Music Therapy”).
A music therapist observes, investigates, develops, validates, and supplements the needs of the patient through countless nontraditional yet nonthreatening avenues. From these factors, it is imperative that a meeting take place in person from the beginning. Then, depending on the capabilities and needs of the patient, a music therapist chooses to employ options such as individual or group sessions. For example, if an individual is anxious or fretful, then a positive plan would look like a drumming or tambourine session, either as an individual or in a group therapy setting. This serves as a direct means to let expression flow, get the internal tension out and allows positive interaction with others if in a social setting. Each session can either be led by the child or the professional. Trained music therapists also see the possible value of working with other healthcare professionals to provide well rounded treatment for the diagnosis. Even if two people are going through the same thing, the job of the therapist is to strategically devise a workable plan to meet the needs of the individual. (Search “Peterson Family Foundation”)
Simply put, music therapy has a place in medical settings as a therapy. In a study done with the Department of Psychology of California State University, they observed 60 children in a hospital setting who were offered choices of play therapy and music therapy (Hendon 141). The mode to show effectiveness was to count the number of smiles in 3 minutes. Smiling is considered a universal way to communicate overall wellbeing. The play therapy room offered everyday childhood choices of activities to do such as crafts, books and toys. Children could remain in this setting as long as they wished. The music therapy room provided some instrument choices and a music therapist leading songs while strumming her guitar. Children were allowed to stay in this setting 45 minutes to an hour. When the hospitalized children in this case were studied for the therapy’s effect on their mood, it was noted that the children who were in music therapy smiled more often than those who went to play therapy (Hendon 143). From this we infer that music therapy had a positive effect on their moods. I believe this approach works. In another controlled study, children ages eight to twelve all diagnosed with differing anxiety disorders were also found to have post-treatment success rate that was 67 percent higher than anticipated after individual and group therapy sessions with methods that were chosen by the music therapist (“Randomized Control”).
Given the multitude of choices parents of children with PTSD face today, it is clear that these patients need intervention of a creative mode not just the traditional route of psychotherapy and medications. Continuing to shove parents in the same direction generation after generation is a disservice. We can avoid this repetitive cycle by educating them about alternative therapies that still correlate with psychotherapy but provide stronger benefits and no ill side effects for their children.