We Need Trauma-Informed Music Education

 “Seventy-one percent of children have been exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event in the past year” (Berson & Baggerly, 2009). In the aftermath of a global pandemic, this statistic is not improving, it is getting worse. A turn to music as a place of refuge is understandable and encouraged. Davis (2010) said, “Music is more than just a medium of entertainment. It is a powerful tool that can capture attention, elicit long forgotten memories, communicate feelings, create and intensify moods, and bring people together” (p. 127). Researchers have considered the role of music in coping with trauma (Altun & Özdemir, 2018). They have also considered the therapeutic value of music in coping with trauma. Davis (2010) also said, “More directly related to counseling interventions, the use of music in therapy and in processing feelings with school-aged children has been well documented” (p. 127). On the other hand, research is starting to emerge about how some music education models are contributing to trauma or otherwise serving as a barrier to optimal health (Perkins et al., 2017).

Music is well documented as an effective component of therapy options for school-aged children and useful in learning to process feelings (Davis, 2010). Research shows a need for coping skills and mood regulation among students and music has a demonstrated ability to develop both (Garrido, Baker, Davidson, Moore, & Wasserman, 2015). Berson and Baggerly (2009) report that 71% of children have been exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event in the past year and almost 70% of children have experienced multiple exposures (p. 375). Exposure to these adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) often cause hyperarousal, refered to as “fight, flight, freeze” response. Over time, chronic exposure to toxic stress produces neurobiological changes in the brain, which have been linked to poor physical health and poor cognitive performance (Terrasi & de Galarce, 2017). Although music has emerged as a creative form of therapy and a way to address stress and cope with trauma (Garrido et al., 2015), the envrironment that we ask students to learn music in can often be or contribute to the problem we are trying to help solve (Carello & Butler, 2015). If maximizing student resilience and reducing student risk of additional trauma and the affects that follow is a goal, music educators must learn to teach self-care, elicite and respond emotionally and intellectually to student feedback, create networks of support in and out of the classroom, be mindful of power imbalances, and maintain effective boundaries (2015).

Trauma-informed, in any context, refers to an applied understanding of the ways traumatic experiences can impact the lives of individuals. In the educational context, trauma-informed is about applying this awareness to the development of systems, services and curriculum so they “accommodate trauma survivors’ needs and are consonant with healing and recovery” (Carello & Butler, 2015, p. 264). This objective requires closer attention to the educational environment. The Fallot and Harris (2009) research established foundational principles for establishing a trauma-informed classroom environment. They are ensuring safety, establishing trustworthiness, maximizing choice, maximizing collaboration, and prioritizing empowerment. These principles are the guide for educators to evaluate their teaching philosophy, classroom environment, curriculum and more through the lens of trauma-informed care (TIC). Carello & Butler (2015) offer a few additional topics regarding the safety principle to consider when implementing any trauma-informed educational practice (TIEP). Student characteristics, content presentation and processing, assignment requirements and policies, instructor behavior, student behavior, classroom characteristics and self-care are all domains for educators to bring TIC to their curriculum development, classroom implementation and overall teaching philosophy. When children perceive their environment to be unsafe, they can enter a hypervigilant state where they experience everyone and everything as a potential threat (Terrasi & de Galarce, 2017). Unfortunately, no data exist on how to implement these ideas in the modern music classroom. Nevertheless, there remains a need to maintain a healthy learning environment for music education students. 

As an educator and someone deeply concerned about the effects of trauma, I have committed to taking on this challenge. Research exists on trauma-informed education practices, music therapy, music education and more but so far there is nothing on what trauma-informed music education (TIME) looks like. As part of my dissertation, I have committed to developing a study that addresses this topic. I can only hope that a wholistic look a trauma in the educational environment is in our near future. After 2020, we ALL need it.

Altun, Z., & Özdemir, M. (2018). The Role of the Music in Coping with Trauma Experiences. European Journal of Education Studies, 0. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.46827/ejes.v0i0.1853

Berson, I. & Baggerly, J. (2009) Building Resilience to Trauma: Creating a Safe and Supportive Early Childhood Classroom, Childhood Education, 85:6, 375-379, Doi: 10.1080/00094056.2009.10521404

Carello, J., & Butler, L. D. (2015). Practicing what we teach: Trauma-informed educational practice. Journal of Teaching in Social Work, 35(3), 262. doi:10.1080/08841233.2015.1030059

Davis, K. M. (2010). Music and the expressive arts with children experiencing trauma. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 5(2), 125-133. Doi:10.1080/15401383.2010.485078

Fallot, R.D., & Harris, M. (2009). Creating Cultures of Trauma-Informed Care (CCTIC): A self-assessment and planning protocol. Washington, DC: Community Connections. Retrieved from https://traumainformedoregon.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/CCTIC-A-Self-Assessment-and-Planning-Protocol.pdf

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, 977. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00977

Terrasi, S., & de Galarce, P. C. (2017). Trauma and learning in America’s classrooms. Phi Delta Kappan, 98(6), 35-41. doi:10.1177/0031721717696476