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Music Therapy With Sexually Abused Children

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Music in its nature is considered therapeutic and has a groundbreaking effect on human beings in different ways. Music is a stress reliever, and it helps maintain and restore physical, mental, and emotional health. In the medical field, several alternatives are used to provide health care. Even though music therapy is not widely used in healthcare, researches have shown that it can be very beneficial and have a wide range of advantages.

Robarts (2006) claims that the early growth of mind and meaning in sexually molested children is greatly devastated at its core by early relational trauma and music is used with clinical perception to help restore damaged children constructively. Music has a very significant role in treating diseases and it can be used to treat both physical and mental disorders since it is calming and strengthening. Researches have proven that music has the ultimate power to make the brain respond as if it was medicine.

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According to Ethnomusicologist John Blacking (1973) music is part of our human identity which is innate to our emotional and social daily living. Being stuck in silence is one of the outcomes of being sexually abused and music has a non-verbal and creative power quality that is used in a therapeutic method to improve learning, memory, emotion, behavior, self-esteem, self-awareness, communication, and self-expression that can help deal with traumatic situations. Music can help lessen the symptoms of depression and help people with mood disorders because of how it has the ability to move people towards a positive outlook on life instead of a negative one.

Sawyer & Judd (2008) stated that “Child abuse is a tragedy that harms children psychologically, emotionally, and physically while disrupting healthy development. Many abused children live in terror of the accused perpetrator, court proceedings, and complications associated with abandonment from family and friends. Aligned with relational and creative counseling practice, a little-known resource exists to assist mental health practitioners who treat these children”. Child abuse happens in different socioeconomic statuses, religion, culture, ethnic and groups. Providing help to a sexually abused child is extremely difficult because of the lack of trust the minor may have. Children who are sexual abuse victims don’t like talking about their experience due to the shock of the overall experience and that leads to the individual pretending the abuse never happened. If sexual abuse victims don’t get the help they need as soon as possible, through time that might cause mental disorder or depression which opens the door to suicide. Minors who have suffered sexual abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, or physical abuse may be in pain from post-traumatic symptoms like depression, nightmares, guilt, fear, and when they grow up they may suffer from low self-esteem, prostitution, drug abuse, and overeating. Interventions such as teaching victims how to bounce back, being cared for by others, having a healthy relationship, and supportive significant other, should be accessible to adolescent sexual abuse survivors so they can learn to regain their sense of control over their lives. Children who are victims of such tragedies tend to have consistent inability to remember the stimuli that are causing for this traumatic memories to come back and haunt them is buried and suppressed deep in the brain and if an individual does not find a way to deal with them and help the brain cope with it, this can be ingredients for something dangerous. In recent years, this issue has gained more attention and music therapists are hopeful that music therapy can help victims deal with this kind of violence.

As cited in an article by Sawyer and Judd, around 3.3 million cases of sexual abuse on children were referred to a specialist or professional group in the United States of America only (2012). Because of the massive amount of potential music therapy clients, his growing number of horror has extreme insinuation on the music therapy field. Most of the sexual abuse victims have the fear of remembering the details or fragments and they are still threatened by their abuser. The family might not believe that actually happened and this causes a destruction of trust to an important person in one’s life and this is the worst thing that can happen to a victim. Music therapy has a way of dealing with this by offering a specific way of communication in silence. Sexual abuse is one of several examples of childhood trauma, so music therapists should put the fact that these victims have trust issues under consideration. Sexual abuse victims should feel safe, empowered, in control, sense of belongingness, protected from abusers, and happy when they are treated by music therapists. During music therapy, children express their inner feelings and emotions through free improvisation.

The child victim can also compose music, sing, and/or dance to express how they feel. As Strehlow (2009) stated “Through improvisation, sexually abused children show typical interactions such as being overwhelmed, feeling used, helpless and powerless. Feeling numb, withdrawn, self-harm or dissociate are desperate attempts for the child to survive the terrifying experience. Another relevant aspect is the discovery and development of the resources of the traumatized child. Finding suitable words is necessary in order to express and reconstruct the traumatic experience of sexual abuse so that the child can integrate the experience. The long-term goal of recovering from the traumatic experience is for the child to be able to cope more effectively if something happens that reminds them of their past vulnerable experience and to be able to trust ever again relationships”. It is not abnormal for child victims to feel powerless and used after facing such horror and utilizing music therapy to help them be able to cope without having to verbally communicate about it is groundbreaking. Music therapist need to unravel some of his/her emotions during the therapy session so that the child can feel more comfortable and connected with them. Being able to trust people can be hard for a child victim so the music therapist needs to find the right words and create a beautiful environment for the survivor to feel like they can trust them. Music stimulates more parts of the brain than any other human function.

Music brings out and extracts involuntary responses from our body that are felt within and expressed externally. If music has this much power in controlling and stimulating our brain subconsciously, using improvisation as a therapeutic music is a brilliant idea because this can help children with a traumatic past to deal with their issues without having to communicate about it. As Robarts, J. (2010) used the case of ‘Sally’ in his ‘Music Therapy with Sexually Abused Children,’ Sally was a young girl who was sexually molested by two men in her household ( one of them being her mom’s partner), from the age of 2 and a half to the age of 7. Sally suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder which caused her to act with a poor capacity of self-regulation, numbing of feelings, limited expressive language, severe problem of attention, poor of motor control dissociative states, and avoidance of stimuli that reminded her of past experience. From the age of 7 until she was 14 years old, sally received music therapy. “At first unable to modulate/regulate her impulses and feelings, Sally gradually began to use instruments proved to be vital intermediaries of relationship, offering her sensory experiences of herself in stroke rather than kick or hit the musical instruments. She would then look at her hand wonderingly, almost amazed as if recognizing her hand as her own for the first time. The various musical sound, that helped her begin to develop a sense of herself. Her sensory explorations seemed to help her not only to recognize but to ‘own’ her bodily experiences as she began to trust the act of playing using her hands, fingers, mouth, feet, arms. The resonance of musical instruments extended her self-awareness and holding her interest in ways that created space and time for thought. By the end of the 2nd year of music therapy, she had begun to use some words which reflected her pleasure in music: ‘Swimming’, ‘riding’, she would say as she played. ‘Safe’ became a word she used, when she became more able to settle and engage in a shared experience of quiet play”. At the end of her 7-year music therapy, Sally finally learned to trust people again and learned how to deal with her easily agitated and fearful emotions. At first, Sally used to yell at her musical therapist and she was distant but through music and through relatedness with her music therapist, Sally learned how to self-regulate herself and grew her capacity through a musical relational frame. This whole process of how Sally’s feelings were supported but also altered through certain types of music and instruments; Sally grew her sense of being in control, believed in herself and others.

In 2009, Strehlow stated that music improvisation plays a very important role in helping sexually abused children. It can be a safe haven or a space for good and secure experience for sexual abuse victims. Music is a way of reflecting emotional experiences without having to say it out loud and it can be a scope for pleasant and enjoyable experiences. Music provides different options for sexual abuse victims to deal with their problems. It can also be used as a way of conserving, shedding, regulating, and re-enacting unendurable emotional experiences. In general, it is a way out of silence. Music helps and provides a solution for children and adolescents who have gone through a catastrophic experience such as sexual abuse to tell their story musically and metaphorically. The treatment includes music relaxation experience, playing instruments, and singing. It also helps them to receive support and nurture from trained professionals with boundaries. Therefore, music therapy is an essential intervention to help children who were sexually abused and it can give them a chance to express their difficulties and get help from trained therapists.

Music therapy can help victims explore other emotions that are not anger and rage, and can encourage them to accept what happened and find a way to cope with it. The beauty of music is that it is seen as a healer to people with traumatic pasts that are unimaginable and can bring creativity and positive light out of individuals whose lives were filled with darkness and misery for a long period of time such as Sally’s story. The best music is made from pain and devastation because all the hurt inside creates a work of art that begins to heal the wounds. For minors who have been sexually abuse, musical therapy brings a new creative way to help them heal and move forward from something that is very tragic and evil towards a more cheerful buoyant future for themselves that helps the victims rise out of the concrete and bloom into a beautiful rose just like Sally did.


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