I'm in the midst of reading The Body Keeps The Score, an incredible book about trauma. Its author, Bessel van der Kolk, has been on the front lines of research about psychological trauma for several decades. As someone who worked with traumatized Vietnam veterans early in his career, he led a major wave of treatment and research about PTSD. He has also worked extensively with victims of sexual assault, natural disasters, and child abuse (a phenomenon which is a lot more "normal" than we might like to think).
The book paints a picture of our world that is difficult to bear, but one that we must come to grips with. A large percentage of our society has experienced major trauma. And, as van der Kolk masterfully demonstrates, trauma creates a complex constellation of physical and emotional symptoms that haunt victims for the rest of their lives. Unprocessed, trauma can inhibit our most basic functioning as human beings, leaving us to repeat and replicate it. Trauma victims do not fit neatly into traditional diagnoses, and their symptoms can be stubbornly unresponsive to drugs.
At the end of 2015 -- a year that left us asking, "What the hell is wrong with our world?!" -- this is an important book to read. The pain of unprocessed trauma is, at least in part, what's wrong with our world.
In the final section of the book, van der Kolk discusses some of the treatment pathways and healing practices that are effective in treating trauma. He names several things that are important for us musicians to consider.
1. Communal singing, rhythm-making, dancing, improvisation, and play have a demonstrably healing effect on trauma victims. (Keep in mind, here, that trauma victims are not some tiny part of the population. They are everywhere.) He is not speaking only of music therapy, but of active engagement with a communal musical practice of some kind.
2. Humans cannot heal from trauma without establishing a network of supportive, healing human relationships -- the very kind of relationships often forged through creative practices.
Although I haven't finished the book yet, I can't help but think of what a powerful discipline and art we've chosen as musicians. Not only are we equipped to help ourselves heal from the inevitable traumas we might face, we are uniquely able to be part of others' healing, too. How can we use the tool of music to help heal the wounds of our world?
As I continue to move through the book and seek out additional resources, I will keep you posted on what further things I find on the topic.