Archive for the 'Trauma' Category

When meds fail: The case for music therapy

In this heartfelt  and impassioned TED Talk, entitled, “When Meds Fail: The Case for Music Therapy,” board certified music therapist Tim Ringgold shares how he got to be the musical transformation for his young daughter’s passage into and out of this world.

Tim says: “When meds fail, the docs prescribe music.”

In describing his work with patients:  “I am meeting them inside the music.”

in describing his work as a music therapist:  “I stand at the intersection of art and science. And I get to administer music as medicine.”

Click here to view the video: “When Meds Fail: The Case for Music Therapy”.


Music also has the power to transform by giving voice to our feelings.

The following story describes the meaning in the choices of songs by an older man facing death.  The story is followed by an audio testimonial by a mom of how music therapy helped give voice to the feelings of her daughter, who she lost to cancer.

Both stories are from the American Music Therapy Association website.

The Transformative Power of Working with People Who Are Facing Death

“Our work as music therapists never stops giving us powerful experiences and lessons. This seems to be magnified when spending one’s days with people who are facing death. With this experience, music therapists are sensitized to the extreme emotions surrounding death, and can empathize with these patients and their families.

“I had the privilege of working with an older man, who I’ll refer to as Mr. Smith, and who dearly touched my heart. Countless patients of mine have touched me, but Mr. Smith will remain in my memory as vividly as I saw him in the very hours we spent together.

“At the end of life, there is a certain amount of one’s will that determines when one dies. I have seen people hold on to their lives with extreme pain and labored breathing, for weeks, just to reconcile a broken relationship with a loved one. That being said, there is simply no substitute for the beautiful and seamless opportunity that music therapy provides for people to complete their lives with dignity.

“Music allowed Mr. Smith to die peacefully. The two songs that he specifically requested conveyed the messages he needed to share before departing from this world. Music therapy provided him the crucial opportunity or medium to express what he felt.

“Since Mr. Smith was in a great deal of pain at the end of his life, we never engaged in very formal lyric analysis; however, Mr. Smith naturally expressed his analysis of these songs in small, intermittent statements during our sessions.

“The first song he requested was Send In The Clowns, by Stephen Sondheim. This song, to Mr. Smith, highlighted the gross irony that, in stark contrast to the beauty and potential happiness in this world, there is often great emotional and physical pain in our final hours. The grand exit and culmination of our lives is often marked “not with a bang, but a whimper,” as T.S. Elliot so poignantly writes. It is a cold reality; a cruel joke that often leaves us bitter. Send in the Clowns validated and beautifully conveyed feelings for Mr. Smith when he could not. He said “I used to be able to sing and dance, and now-” he paused and closed his eyes, wincing from a shooting pain- “well, I’m here in this place.” “This place” was where people came to die. Mr. Smith knew that, because, in addition to being fully alert and oriented, he had a sister who had passed away there just two years before.

“The second song he requested was “Try to Remember,” from the Broadway musical The Fantastiks. This is a beautiful song that he particularly wanted his family to hear. There are several lines in this song that Mr. Smith highlighted by mouthing the words to his wife:

“Try to remember… and follow.”
“Without a hurt the heart is hollow.”

“Deep in December it’s nice to remember the fire of September that made us mellow.”

“I’ve wondered what Mr. Smith’s room would’ve been like without music therapy. Mr. & Mrs. Smith had four children- one who’d been estranged- all of whom were quite anxious. No one’s anxiety exceeded that of his wife, however. I was able to witness the facilitation of tears, hugs, and precious family interactions by our music therapy sessions together.

“I’ve also wondered how my life would be without the experience and privilege of working with Mr. Smith. It is impossible to know for sure, but I can say that I am better able to keep an eye on the big picture of my life after working with him.

“My time with Mr. Smith instilled in me a powerfully transformative thought. The music of our lives remains long after our bodies pass away; the love contained therein is eternal and will last beyond our pain.

Written by Sharon Graham, MM, MT-BC

 The Gift of Music Therapy During My Daughter’s Battle with Cancer

“When Allison would peek through the window of our hospital room door, guitar in hand, we would heave a sigh of relief and wave her in… Music has the power to transport the listener.” Listen to this 3-minute testimonial from Jefri Franks, the mom of a child who received music therapy services throughout her fight with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Jefri shares highlights of music therapy helped her family find outlets and insights through their “harrowing journey.”

Note: Current AMTA members can find a more detailed discussion of her family’s experiences with music therapy in the AMTA-pro podcast series.


Art therapy life narrative activity for youth with history of trauma

Linda Chapman, MA ATR-BC

Art therapist Linda Chapman shares a technique that she finds increasingly valuable in art therapy with children and teens with a history of developmental or complex trauma. It requires very little media, space, and can be worked on at the child’s pace of comfort.

Autobiographical Life Narrative

Creating an autobiographical life narrative is completed over a number of sessions, sometimes weeks or months.  This requires a roll of paper 12″ x 15-20′ long, resembling a roll of paper towels.

I offer graphite and colored pencils, markers, pastels and paint, but the drawing can be done with any drawing media.   I also have infant stickers depicting infant supplies, toys, and “It’s a Boy” and “It’s a Girl” stickers.  I also have toy catalogues available.

I begin by asking the child if they know where they were born, such as in a hospital or at home, and if they know who was present.  The child may or may not know this, but can find out.  If they do know, I ask them to depict the hospital, those present, and anything else they know about that day.  Then I ask if they heard any stories about themselves as a baby, and do they remember a favorite toy. They find images or draw depictions of what they recall as a young child.  I then ask about day-care, pre-school and other early experiences to stimulate them thinking of their early years.  The images will depict toys, clothes, and important people as well as negative experiences such as domestic violence.  We continue the narrative until it is the present time, which may take many sessions.

As the child works on the visual narrative, it becomes a reference tool for accessing memories, emotions, and thoughts.  The experience also is a vehicle for exploring losses as favorite toys or people and places are remembered.  Another item that I notice appears is the many injustices suffered by children which are seemingly never forgotten.  One of the most useful aspects of the narrative is to use it as a template for remembering when the child began hearing voices, or began cutting.  The depiction of the stressor is often is visual form just before cutting or suicide attempts.  This allows me to normalize the maladaptive coping as an attempt to control emotions.  After doing so, one teen remarked, “This is the first time I have ever understood why I cut.”

I recommend you proceed slowly, and let the child know they can work on the narrative as much or as little as they like at each session.  Often the age of the developmental arrest is when the child stops drawing or working on the narrative.  With gentle encouragement and normalizing of wanting to avoid the painful memories, most children will complete the narrative, but not always.


Linda Chapman, MA, ATR-BC, is a registered and board certified art therapist and play therapist who directs the Art Therapy Institute of the Redwoods in Northern California, a center for learning and therapy. Linda was affiliated with the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine for 25 years, where she held clinical faculty and research appointments. Linda was a creator and for 10 years directed the UCSF/San Francisco General Hospital Pediatric Play Therapy Program, and has conducted federally funded art therapy outcome research with the UCSF/SFGH Injury Center and Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland. Linda is a nationally recognized expert in art therapy and play therapy with children who are victims of violence, child abuse and medical trauma. She is the author of several peer-review papers and has authored and co-authored chapters in Effective Treatments for PTSD: Practice Guidelines from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, California Art Therapy Trends and Group Play Therapy She is a member of the review board of Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association. Linda is an adjunct faculty member of many universities.

Music therapy for recovery from brain injury: the remarkable story of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords


Photo of Giffords undergoing music therapy at TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation Hospital in Houston. The image is from her interview in November 2011 with Diane Sawyer on ABC’s 20/20.


This PBS clip brings attention to the efficacy of music therapy in recovery from brain injury. For example, language can be accessed through music pathways in the brain because music and language are stored together, and music is stored in both hemispheres of the brain.

The benefits of music therapy for brain injury received increased attention as a result of the video-documented recovery of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, whose family credits music therapy for her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head.

According to Eric Walden, who teaches music therapy at University of the Pacific, sometimes it’s easier for people who have had a brain injury to sing words than say them. He describes music therapy as a serving as a “cerebral bypass” around damaged areas of the brain, allowing someone to regain mobility or speech. He further explains that while music is universally helpful to all, music therapy specifically involves a therapeutic relationship and the intentional use of music for non-musical goals. (These statements are documented in a PBS video entitled, The Healing Power of Music , 2/27/12.)

Click here to view the remarkable footage of a music therapist working with Rep. Giffords. Fast forward to the middle of the clip in order to see the actual work with Rep. Giffords. This footage features commentary by neurologist Oliver Sacks, MD.

The State of the Art and Science in Creative Arts Therapies—with a Focus on Treatment of Trauma

View the panel presentation on “The State of the Art and Science in Creative Arts Therapies—with a Focus on Treatment of Trauma” orchestrated by UCLArts and Healing for the major International Research Conference on Integrative Medicine and Health in 2012:

Click here to view the video.

view video

This panel discussion, which took place at the 2012 International Research Conference on Integrative Medicine and Health, begins with a state of the art review of current research and the goals and issues of ongoing research by moderator, Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH. Five distinguished clinicians and scholars from four creative arts therapy disciplines (art therapy, dance/movement therapy, drama therapy, and music therapy) then present discipline-specific research focused on the treatment of trauma. Panelists also offer a coordinated presentation highlighting underlying paradigms of the creative arts therapies and emerging trends in evidence-informed practice. Selected applications of creative arts therapies, including those in the context of academic health centers and integrative medicine, are illustrated. 

Panel Moderator: 
Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH
Adjunct Lecturer, Harvard School of Public Health, USA
Founding Director, Foundation for Art and Healing

Marcia L. Rosal, PhD, ATR-BC, HLM
Professor and Director Art Therapy Program, Florida State University, USA

Sherry Goodill, PhD, BC-DMT, NCC, LPC
Chairperson, Department of Creative Arts Therapies, Drexel University, USA

Stephen Snow, PhD, RDT-BCT
Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Creative Arts Therapies, Concordia University, Canada

Bryan C. Hunter, PhD, LCAT, MT-BC
Professor and Chair, Dept. of Creative Arts Therapy, Nazareth College


Four Air Force captains empower Afghani and other women by creating a nonprofit to bring their artisan handiwork to America.

Artisan handiwork can change not only the lives of artists but also the people trying to help them.

Four US Air Force captains, inspired by artisan widows in Afghanistan, have created the nonprofit, Flying Scarves, to empower women throughout the world.

In order to rebuild these communities, we’re going to have to empower people…And the people who don’t typically have access to capital, money and jobs are women. — Capt. Josh Carroll.

Click here to view the ABC newscast and read the heartwarming story.

If we could see inside people’s hearts

This is an absolutely touching video from the Cleveland Clinic entitled, “If We Could See Inside People’s Hearts.”   We each have important stories to tell, and knowing those stories fills us with empathy and compassion.  The creative arts can enable us to see inside people’s hearts, even without words.

Click here to view the 4-minute video.

An Inspiration from Boston: Making Sense of the Constantly Changing Scenery of Life

An Inspiration from Boston: Making Sense of the Constantly Changing Scenery of Life

Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH, Founder and President of the Foundation for Art and Healing, eloquently distills the essence of a heartwarming video of a marine’s visit with two marathon bombing victims and makes clear the role of art and telling our stories in helping us see and hold onto who we are.

Because of the homemade nature of the explosive device, the Boston Marathon bombing injured hundreds of spectators with wounds similar to those sustained by active duty combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of these wounds were devastating to the lower extremities, requiring amputation. The video clip below was taken during a heartwarming visit of one such Marine, a bilateral amputee, to the hospital room of a marathon bombing victim who also lost both legs. In the simple but stunningly warm and caring conversation between two strangers, united by common wounds, one witnesses firsthand the power of human engagement, connection, empathy, compassion and support.

In his sharing of his own personal experience, one Marine says simply “This is the start,..this isn’t the end, it’s the beginning. Another Marine says, “This doesn’t matter,…this is just a change of scenery.” Just a change of scenery. That simple reminder opens the door to a realization that what is essential about who we are remains, even when much is removed. The Marine’s wise guidance invites us to consider the difference between the externalities of life that similar to “scenery”, passes us by without altering that which is vital within us, makes us who we are, and sustains us as we struggle with life’s challenges.

At another disruptive disaster a few months ago, this one the result of the destructive 100 mile an hour winds of Hurricane Sandy, thousands were left homeless and sought shelter in schools and community centers in Long island and New Jersey. In one such shelter in Queens, a creative art and expression therapist working with the traumatized children asked them to draw the things that matter to them that they have with them all the time. With this simple exercise, the children had the chance to differentiate the transitory “scenery” of life from what they will always possess, and in the end that was exactly the reassurance they needed. It calmed their fears, allowed them to sleep without nightmares, and in a real sense to return home.

As we head out each day into the challenges that face us and those we love, the one thing we can count on is that the scenery will always be changing. With a little “practice” perhaps we can all also learn to count on those things that will never change, our essential “one-ness’ and connection with each other that this lovely video so clearly conveys, our commonly shared aspirations for a better world, and hope for a better future for all of us and all who come after. Perhaps it’s how we all can return home.

Click here to view the video of the exchange between the Marines and the Boston marathon bombing victims:

To receive, search for, or post information on topics such as this, visit