How Teachers can use Art and Music Education to help Children Heal from Trauma and Crisis

Art and music can be healing tools, that sooth the soul. When properly applied, they can be effective tools to treat trauma. Learning to apply expressive arts to heal pain, requires understanding the elements of a “crisis”, and the goals and objectives in crisis intervention. It is this understanding, which allows a teacher to apply art and music, beyond instruments of enjoyment, into tools for treating pain.

The Chinese define “crisis” as both a problem and opportunity, depending upon how the crisis is viewed. A “crisis” leaves a major impact on adults and on children, and that crisis can create change for better or worse.

When the passengers boarded United Airlines, leaving Logan International Airport in Boston,  on 9/11/2001, it was by all accounts an ordinary day. At the end of the day, all of those passengers were dead, and we were forever changed. Everybody old enough to remember that day can tell you what they were doing, where they were, and the impact the day had on them. Those closest to the crisis, such as families of passengers that died, or families of people inside of the twin towers, or residents living in New York, felt it the most acutely, but all of us felt the impact. And, the impact of that day changed us forever.

Crisis or trauma work just this way. Ordinary days turn into extraordinary days suddenly, and unexpectedly. We are walking through life, with normal ups and downs, and suddenly and abruptly, something happens, and our world changes. This is known as the “hazardous event”..

The emotions spiral downward, and we are left speechless, in a state of shock, and out of sorts. Vulnerability happens. Tension rises, and traditional problem solving methods no longer seem effective. Feelings of depression, and hopelessness set in, and some regression of ego occurs to a more primitive state. The state of “active crisis” sets in, and the imbalance will last between four to six weeks.

At the end of the six weeks, the person will return to the same level of “balance” they experienced before the crisis, or they will be functioning at a higher state than prior to the crisis, or a lower state of functioning before the crisis, but they will not be at the same devastating place as when they were in the active phase of the crisis. Their world may no longer be the same, it may be forever changed, but they will not be in the intense turmoil experienced during the initial days.

As teachers it will be your responsibility to help children cope with crisis or trauma, and traditional methods of “talk” just may not work. You may not know how to hep. You may not know what to do. Traditional methods may need to be replaced with non traditional methods. Art and music can provide answers.

The goals of crisis intervention should be to relieve the symptoms, help restore children to at a minimum the previous level of functioning, understand what happened that led to this crisis, and help identify available resources, and supports. Art and music can be the tools that are utilized to meet these goals.

Children may not have words to express the feelings; they may need art. Art such as drawing pictures of the event can provide children with opportunities to express what happened, how the crisis has impacted them, and identify resources and supports available to help them manage the feelings. Drawings can accomplish this goal.

Music experienced as either listeners of that music, or creators of the music can do the same. Others may have words that children lack, but feel. The aim is to express the “hazardous event”; in ways missing with words, and explore what is needed for the child to return to a “state of balance”. This includes exploring resources and supports.

Drawing might take the form of pictures of what the child’s life looked like before the “event”, how the child’s life looks now, and what the child would like his world to look like in the future. In other words, an expression of past, present, and future, scripted by the child.

Art and music are expressive arts. As long as the teacher remembers that the goal of the art and music is to explore the past, keeping in mind the “hazardous events”, the present “what the world looks like now”, and “how the child wants life to look again”, art and music transform from simply expressive arts, into tools to treat the soul.