Music Therapy and PTSD

Welcome to November, a month during which every year we Americans give thanks. We have a special day set aside to give thanks for all we have. But, we also acknowledge and honor our Veterans this month. We celebrate all the brave men and women who have served and continue to serve our country as members of our Armed Forces.

This November, I want to highlight our “Wounded Warriors”—those men and women who have been damaged on our battlefields, and particularly those who suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. These individuals may or may not have a physical injury, but PTSD is equally, if not more, devastating than any physical injury. The simple truth is that those afflicted with PTSD often lose their sense of purpose, their families, their jobs and, all too frequently, their lives.

What is PTSD?

The National Center for PTSD says that “PTSD is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.” They go on to say that “PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will have PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control. For example, having a very intense or long-lasting traumatic event or getting injured during the event can make it more likely that a person will develop PTSD. PTSD is also more common after certain types of trauma, like combat and sexual assault.”

As a licensed Music Therapist, I:

– Assess the strengths and needs of each client

– Provide the indicated, individual treatment

– Set goals with the patient’s healthcare team to effect quality of life changes

Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, the abilities of those suffering from PTSD are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives. Music is shown to arouse, activate, and encourage motivation for positive change. And, research shows a decrease in relapse rate!

I am also a licensed Music Psychotherapist (a “slice” of the practice of Music Therapy) and Registered Nurse and, as such, I am trained to address mental health issues, family issues, and certain medical issues.

An individual dealing with PTSD can find that Music Therapy treatment is filled with JOY and metaphor. The individual is able to project or transfer emotions, thoughts, and feelings onto the music/rhythm as engagement in the therapeutic process progresses. Additionally, counter-transference is minimized because the focus is on the music…NOT the therapist. The music becomes the line of communication for deep, nonverbal experiences, feelings, memories, and pictures. It reaches beyond the conscious mind and, often, beyond words.

militarybandThere is a fantastic example of success using Music Therapy with PTSD and the military population at Resounding Joy in California. This non-profit’s program Semper Sound reaches active duty and veteran military, primarily in California:

Please note that Music Therapy for PTSD and high-risk military clients must be used with caution and done by a Board Certified Music Therapist trained in mental health & trauma service delivery.

I am working to find more in-roads for group Music Therapy Programs for Veterans here in Spokane. In the meantime, if you or a loved one suffers from PTSD, I’d love to talk with you to discuss how Music Therapy can help your unique situation.

For more information:

  1. Learn more about the history and current use of Music Therapy with the Military Population:
  2. National Center for PTSD:
  3. How Music Therapy is helping Veterans and Active Duty military in California:
  4. An amazing and inspirational article about the Music Therapy program for Vets at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Intrepid Center of Excellence:
  5. How “Drum Therapy” helps Veterans cope with injuries, anxiety, depression, and even substance abuse:

Kim McMillin

Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Board Certified Music Therapist
I am passionate about helping others to find the goodness within them and to heal the barriers that prevent them from embracing the Light of Goodness inside. Each of us comes into this world as a magnificent Sun. What often trips us up is that we learn to identify with the clouds -- ugly things...

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