Music therapy in mass trauma: The effect on the therapist a literature based study


Music therapy and other experiential therapies such as the creative arts therapies hold an essential place in trauma work as they can provide an unobtrusive, positive format for debriefing responding personnel. By providing diffusion and creating an atmosphere which is positive, supportive and based on care and concern for the team members, music therapy provides a safe place for necessary expression. In recent years, music therapists have utilized their skills and training to provide services to survivors of mass trauma. Some examples of situations where music therapy has been utilized are the terrorist attacks in New York City, war torn Bosnia and Sierra-Leone, Africa, the school shootings in Columbine, Colorado and recently in the Gulf Coast region of the United States such as Mississippi and Louisiana following a deadly and destructive series of hurricanes. The design of this research is a literature based study. The matrix method, developed by Judith Garrard (1999) was used to compile and code the data in order to thoroughly study the data and systematically and carefully build the theory. The articles and book chapters were then analyzed with the qualitative method of grounded theory. A qualitative, systematic literature based study using grounded theory methodology serves to provide an overarching statement on the state of the field, locating all the work on a given topic, utilizing appropriate standards for inclusion or exclusion and then evaluating, comparing viii and coding and synthesizing. Through the articles and book chapters, the methods used to prevent, treat or alleviate symptoms of vicarious traumatization and secondary post-traumatic stress disorders were collected, coded, analyzed and themes were extrapolated from the data to form a theoretical model. Many common themes emerged as the preparation and training methods for mental health practitioners across all disciplines were examined. Those themes included receiving training prior to the disaster response, being well informed about trauma and trauma work, setting up and participating in supervision or debriefing during the work with other advanced, knowledgeable professionals, purposely designing scheduled breaks from the environment and the work and preparing for rejection when survivors choose not to use the available therapeutic services. Other themes related to preparation specific to music therapy emerged such as music therapists identifying the importance of music making for themselves during or directly after providing care to traumatized people, the value of collaborating with peers and participating in peer debriefing after providing services, the value of analyzing the music therapist’s internal responses during the music making, the importance of the timing of the music therapy interventions, the importance of presenting music on a sophisticated level and maintaining focus on major goals such as relief of tension, expression of anxiety and building resilience and hope.






Christine C. Wineberg

Original Work Citation

Wineberg, C. C. (2007, December). Music therapy in mass trauma: The effect on the therapist a literature based study. (Master's thesis, Drexel University). Retrieved from



“Music therapy in mass trauma: The effect on the therapist a literature based study,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed September 20, 2020,

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