Music Medicine with PTSD: The Hidden Wound

Men and women who go to war encounter horrors that are truly unimaginable the average person.  This is nothing new.  Wars have always been bloody and violent even thousands of years ago.  In my parents generation, they saw the horrors of mustard gas and bombs of World War I.  My own father fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II, and almost died because he lay in the snow for over 24 hours, bleeding.  Since then, we’ve had the Vietnam War, which my husband almost had to fight in, had it not ended in 1974, then the War in Afghanistan and now the on-going Middle East conflicts!  It never ends!

Is there any way that music could make a serious difference?  Well, the VA hospitals certainly think so!  As a matter of fact, the Veteran’s hospitals were the very first hospital systems that started whole departments for music therapy after World War II.   Music is such a simple tool that people often take it for granted, but in the hands of skilled therapists and musicians, miraculous things can happen!

People with PTSD often try to “not talk about it” and be “brave” and “stoic.”   A recent article in TIME magazine on music therapy with Veterans reported that “We’re currently losing more veterans to suicide than to enemy action. If you ever confront another veteran and they tell you they never thought about killing themselves, they’re lying.” – Steven Diaz, veteran of the 2003 Iraq War

How does music make such a difference.  One of the ways is that music by-passes conscious defense mechanisms and goes straight to the heart.  When a patient hears music that is meaningful to him and elicits powerful memories and emotions, it’s difficult to deny or hide these emotions.  A skilled therapist will pick up on this and enter through this crack in the facade.

Not only that, but for Vets that are primarily depressed, music can transport the person to happier times, pre-War and build on this memory trip to explore what created these warm and happy memories and build upon that.  Click here to see a 7-minute documentary on the use of music with Vets who have been diagnosed with PTSD.  It’s powerful!

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