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

It’s a given that students today do not get the luxury of growing up without some sort of crisis or trauma in their lives. War, drugs, violence, and familial problems create a world that touches just about everybody. These traumatized students then come to school and are expected to just “get through it.” Some of them can. Most of them can’t. Teachers can help students heal and move on through the use of art and music education.

Art and music are among the most basic forms of expression. Even for people that claim they cannot draw, pictures speak volumes. Both Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud employed the use of drawings in helping patients. The reason is simple. When someone has to express him/herself, it will come out. Once something is expressed, it can be dealt with and healed. Like a 12-step process, the first step is always admitting there is a problem. From there, and there only, the other steps can be taken.

Provide students drawing materials (paper, crayons, colored pencils, chalk, etc.). Let students spend a little time each day just drawing whatever is in their minds. It could be the tree outside the window. Maybe it’s their best friend. Whatever it is, the drawing will show how the student sees things. Violent or dark images are good indicators that the student is experiencing some trauma or crisis in his/her life. These students can be talked to away from other students. Tell them that the next time they draw, you want them to use brighter colors or create an image that shows cooperation instead of violence. This is a sort of mental programming that tells the student life is not all dark images and violence. It says things can be better and different. Another valuable drawing assignment is to have the student draw a portrait of themselves as they’d like to be in 10 years’ time. Again, the value in this is demonstrating that current circumstances do not have to remain as they are and that students can aspire.

Other artistic endeavors can include using modeling clay, weaving, sculpting, or other craft kits. Students can express themselves in their creations, indicating again if there is something going on. Additionally, the entire creation process does wonders for a student’s self-esteem. “Look what I made” are four of the proudest words a teacher (or parent) can ever hear.

Music is another area that offers similar benefits and another mode for helping students heal. Like art, music is intensely personal. It’s also challenging. No one is born playing the guitar, the piano, or singing arias. They are all learned. But once they are learned, it becomes like riding a bicycle and is never forgotten. Like art, playing music can be cathartic, allowing a child to release feelings and emotions that might otherwise stay hidden and buried. Also like art, students will gravitate toward a specific type of music for expression. As the teacher, be sure that gravitation does not become an obsession. Encourage the student to sing different songs or play different types of music. If the student loves to hit things, encourage that student to take up percussion. If the student has a light touch, a stringed instrument is a good choice.

And don’t forget that even listening to music or viewing art can help in the healing process. Some people are unable to express things themselves in any shape or form, but can feel and express in being the observer. When possible, show pictures of different types of art in the classroom. Play different types of music. The student with their eyes closed or with their head on the desk might be having an emotional release. The student that seemed so withdrawn might suddenly spring to life. The student that never says a word might speak volumes in wordless expression.

Art and music are not just vital subjects in helping develop a well-rounded student, they are vital modes of expression. In expression, there is healing. Even if it does not show on the surface, art and music incorporated into a student’s life can help them move past the trauma and crisis that may be surrounding them.