Content uploaded by Sandra Garrido
All content in this area was uploaded by Sandra Garrido on Jul 12, 2015
Content may be subject to copyright.
published: 10 July 2015
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 1July 2015 | Volume 6 | Article 977
Carl von Ossietzky Universität
This article was submitted to
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
Received: 02 June 2015
Accepted: 29 June 2015
Published: 10 July 2015
Garrido S, Baker FA, Davidson JW,
Moore G and Wasserman S (2015)
Music and trauma: the relationship
between music, personality, and
coping style. Front. Psychol. 6:977.
Music and trauma: the relationship
between music, personality, and
Sandra Garrido 1, 2*, Felicity A. Baker 2, Jane W. Davidson1, 2 , Grace Moore 1and
Steve Wasserman 3
1Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC,
Australia, 2Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC, Australia, 3Independent
Psychotherapist, Harrow, UK
Keywords: trauma, music therapy, arts therapies, coping style, individual differences
In a world that is dominated by news of conﬂict, violence and natural disasters aﬀecting millions
of people around the globe, there is a need for eﬀective strategies for coping with trauma. The
eﬀects of such trauma on both individuals and communities, are deep and long-lasting (Sutton,
2002). Cultural techniques play an important role in helping communities to recover from trauma.
Sports and games, for example, have been used in numerous settings with individuals suﬀering from
post-traumatic stress disorder (Lawrence et al., 2010). Other arts-based therapies such as reading or
creative writing are also proving to be eﬀective means for dealing with the aftermath of traumatic
events. Music can also play a role in helping individuals and communities to cope with trauma,
whether it be through the intervention of music therapists, community music making programs or
individual music listening. However, despite the abundance of positive examples of the value of the
arts in trauma recovery, music, and the arts receives little recognition by leaders in global health
issues (Clift et al., 2010). This paper will argue, therefore, that there is a need for a solid empirical
evidence base that can illuminate the mechanisms by which music and arts therapies are eﬀective,
as well as consideration of how individual diﬀerences in personality and coping style can moderate
participant responses to such therapies.
Trauma and Its Effects
While the word “trauma” can refer to both physical and psychological trauma, in this paper
we focus on the latter. However, deﬁning psychological trauma is in itself problematic. The
current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V, APA 2013), in the
context of deﬁning post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), deﬁnes a traumatic event as “actual or
threatened death, serious injury or sexual violence,” whether personally experienced or witnessed,
or experienced vicariously. This deﬁnition can include a variety of stressors of varying magnitude,
frequency and duration. In addition, individual appraisal of an event can lead to diﬀering levels
of impact upon each person experiencing the event (Weathers and Keane, 2007). As described by
Sutton (2002), however, most scholars agree that three aspects are central to an understanding of
trauma: “shock, wound and a lasting eﬀect” (p. 22).
Two categories of trauma related disorders are included in the DSM: acute stress disorder,
which relates to the acute and immediate eﬀects of a traumatic event, and PTSD, a more
chronic and long-lasting condition. However, many people may suﬀer from the impact of a
traumatic event at sub-threshold levels. Among the disturbing eﬀects at both clinical and sub-
clinical levels of trauma may be emotional numbing, re-experiencing the event, survivor guilt
and feelings of responsibility, anger, and heightened arousal levels (Honig et al., 1999). Trauma
Garrido et al. Music and trauma
has also been found to have a detrimental eﬀect on attention,
memory and processing speed in children, as well as skewing
their expectations of safety and security in the future (Pynoos
et al., 2007).
Music and the Arts in Coping with Trauma
Over the past decade, music therapy has emerged as a creative
art form that has been used to address stress and coping with
survivors of trauma. In a case study of 8–11 year old children
who had survived a tornado in the Southeastern United States,
for example, music was used to assist the children in expressing
feelings and to help them make the transition back to school
(Davis, 2010). The children created a musical composition
based on their feelings about the tornado, enabling them to
acknowledge and process their emotions in a healthy and healing
McFerran and Teggelove (2011) similarly used music
interventions with young people after the “Black Saturday” ﬁres
in Victoria, Australia in 2009. Improvisation, songwriting and the
sharing and discussing of songs was used within the program, and
participants indicated that playing music with others who had
been through similar experiences and who understood them, was
important. The musical experiences were reported to have helped
people to “hear one another,” bond with others also experiencing
loss, and regain conﬁdence.
Survivors of violence have also beneﬁted from participation in
music therapy programs. In one project working with survivors
of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in
New York City (American Music Therapy Association, 2011),
33 music therapists provided over 7000 programs to children,
adults and families. The programs were designed to reduce stress,
improve coping, and process the trauma associated with the
crisis by drawing on a range of techniques including musical
improvisation, songwriting, singing, sharing stories, and relaxing
Music has also been used as a healing agent in contexts
that do not involve a trained music therapist, such as with
survivors of the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007
(Akombo, 2009). In the study reported by Akombo, a community
musician used music to recall and experience the trauma,
incorporating humor into his work with survivors to help them
deal with the distress associated with the initial violence as
well as the resulting displacement. While little research has
been conducted speciﬁcally in relation to trauma survivors
outside of music therapy contexts, the literature indicates that
various self-determined musical activities including listening,
playing, singing, dancing and songwriting, are commonly used
for coping and mood regulation among both adolescents and
adults (Mayers, 1995; Shields, 2001; Miranda and Claes, 2009;
Davidson and Fedele, 2011; Monteiro and Wall, 2011; Saarikallio,
There is also evidence that people beneﬁt from other creative
therapies such as reading and writing and it is important to
consider how these therapeutic activities may be used both
individually and alongside one another. The writer Arnold Zable
has reported that survivors of the “Black Saturday” bushﬁres
responded positively to creative writing workshops, with one
participant commenting, “I’m ﬁnding this more powerful than
counseling”1. Projects like “Get into Reading,” used in prison
communities, hostels for the homeless, and in mental health
care by the Mersey Care NHS Trust (Billington et al., 2013).
Encourage groups to read aloud together. They are distinct from
the “book group” model because of the performative nature of
the reading experience. More solitary forms of reading can also
oﬀer comfort for many readers (Moore and Pyke, 2007).
Memorizing poetry, especially poems that are applicable in
some way to the individual’s situation (Petermann, 1996; Kelly,
2014), is also able to elicit non-linguistic biopsychosocial eﬀects
in a similar way to music therapy: providing a sense of safety,
management of anxiety and emotional processing, which then
serves as a foundation to the therapeutic goal of ﬁnding one’s
voice—a more coherent narrative—through which to process
As noted in the studies cited above and others, music, and
music therapy researchers argue that the beneﬁts of musical
activities include: mood improvement, self expression, catharsis,
facilitating grieving, relaxation, reﬂection, socialization,
community building, stress reduction, and more. As with
compositional forms of music therapy, those involved in writing
groups have reported that the process of writing about their
trauma allows them to regain their agency, to tell their own
stories. Reading and memorizing of texts can similarly allow one
to express oneself and to relive and reﬂect on memories and
One might see expressive arts therapies as playing the
part of a “resource replacement,” based on a conservation
of resources model of stress (Freedy et al., 1992; Hobfoll,
2001). Here we recognize that the perception of a net loss of
resources accompanying a traumatic event (objects, personal
characteristics, conditions, or energies which have value to us)
engender the destabilizing and overwhelming “black hole of
trauma” (Bloom, 2010, p. 1). This sense of loss needs to be
oﬀset by other resources. If this cannot be done through direct
replacement of the objects lost, then one might want to consider
“symbolic replacement or replacement through indirect means”
(Hobfoll, 1989, p. 518).
Individual Personality and Coping Style
While the beneﬁts of the arts therapies discussed above are
multiple, there is some evidence that people do not always
respond in the same way to music or other creative arts in
dealing with trauma. Baikie and McIlwain (2008), for example,
found that expressive writing was more beneﬁcial for individuals
with high scores in alexythmymia and splitting, but less useful
for people with a repressive coping style. Miranda and Claes
(2009) found that adolescent boys who used music listening
as an emotion-oriented coping strategy tended to have higher
levels of depression, whereas girls who used music listening
as a problem-oriented coping strategy tended to have lower
depression levels. Similarly, Garrido and Schubert (2013, 2015)
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 2July 2015 | Volume 6 | Article 977
Garrido et al. Music and trauma
have found across several studies that people with high scores in
rumination do not obtain the same psychological beneﬁts from
listening to sad music as people with more reﬂective personalities.
While the eﬀectiveness of music therapy and other arts
programs have been clearly demonstrated in the literature, and
individual therapists are themselves highly aware of the way
in which the programs aﬀect participants as individuals, clear
experimental evidence that demonstrates the mechanisms at
work and the inﬂuence of diﬀerences in personality and coping
style, is currently lacking. There is little understanding of which
elements of these programs are crucial to their eﬀectiveness.
Do creative activities such as songwriting, for example, confer
beneﬁts superior to comparatively passive activities such as
reading? Do group activities confer greater beneﬁts than solitary
activities? Are the lyrics of the music involved more important
than the acoustic features? Or is the eﬀect of music a synergy
between these elements? Do the beneﬁts of musical activities, in
fact, outweigh those of other art therapies? Or, do the beneﬁts
of various types of engagement with the arts diﬀer depending on
various factors in relation to the individual involved?
The answers to these questions are crucial, given the
increasing numbers of arts programs that are emerging in the
wake of traumatic events around the world. The establishment
of an experimental evidence base for understanding the factors
involved would be beneﬁcial to both the design of eﬀective
interventions and for inﬂuencing community health strategies
and public health policy for dealing with the aftermath of
Akombo, D. E. (2009). Music and healing during post-election violence in Kenya.
Voices 9. doi: 10.15845/voices.v9i2.349. Available online at: https://voices.no/
American Music Therapy Association. (2011). “Music therapy as crisis project
intervention with survivors of the attacks on the World Trade Centers in New
York City, September 11, 2001,” in Music as a Global Resource: Solutions for
Social and Economic Issues, 3rd Edn., eds B. Hesser and H. N. Heinemann (New
York, NY: United Nations), 139–140.
Baikie, K. A., and McIlwain, D. (2008). Who does expressive writing work
for? Examination of alexithymia, splitting, and repressive coping style as
moderators of the expressive writing paradigm. Br. J. Health Psychol. 13, 61–66.
Billington, J., Davis, P., and Farrington, G. (2013). Reading as participatory
art: an alternative mental health therapy. J. Arts Commun. 5, 25–40. doi:
Bloom, S. L. (2010). Bridging the black hole of trauma: the evolutionary
signiﬁcance of the arts. Psychother.Politics Int. 8, 198–212. doi: 10.1002/
Clift, S., Camic, P., and Daykin, N. (2010). Editorial: the arts and global
health inequities. Arts Health 2, 3–7. doi: 10.1080/175330109034
Davidson, J. W., and Fedele, J. (2011). Investigating group singing activity
with people with dementia and their caregivers: problems and positive
prospects. Musicae Scientiae 15, 402–422. doi: 10.1177/10298649114
Davis, K. M. (2010). Music and the expressive arts with children experiencing
trauma. J. Creat. Mental Health 5, 125–133. doi: 10.1080/15401383.2010.485078
Freedy, J. R., Shaw, D. L., Jarrell, M. P., and Masters, C. R. (1992). Towards an
understanding of the psychological impact of natural disasters: an application
of the conservation resources stress model. J. Trauma. Stress 5, 441–454.
Garrido, S., and Schubert, E. (2013). Moody melodies: do they cheer us up? A
study of the eﬀect of sad music on mood. Psychol.Music 43, 244–261. doi:
Garrido, S., and Schubert, E. (2015). Music and people with tendencies to
depression. Music Percept. 32, 313–321. doi: 10.1525/mp.2015.32.4.313
Hobfoll, S. E. (1989). Conservation of resources: a new attempt at conceptualizing
stress. Am. Psychol. 44, 513.
Hobfoll, S. E. (2001). The inﬂuence of culture, community, and the nested-self in
the stress process: advancing conservation of resources theory. Appl. Psychol.
50, 337–421. doi: 10.1111/1464-0597.00062
Honig, R. G., Grace, M. C., Lindy, J. D., Newman, C. J., and Titchener, J. L. (1999).
Assessing long-term eﬀects of trauma: diagnosing symptoms of avoidance and
numbing. Am. J. Psychiatry 156, 483–485.
Kelly, R. (2014). Black Rainbow: How Words Healed Me: My Journey Through
Depression. Hachette: Yellow Kite.
Lawrence, S., De Silva, M., and Henley, R. (2010). Sports and games for post-
traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. CD007171. doi:
Mayers, K. S. (1995). Songwriting as a way to decrease anxiety and distress
in traumatized children. Arts Psychother. 22, 495–498. doi: 10.1016/0197-
McFerran, K., and Teggelove, K. (2011). Music therapy with young
people in schools: After the black Saturday ﬁres. Voices 11. doi:
10.15845/voices.v11i1.285. Available online at: https://voices.no/index.
Miranda, D., and Claes, M. (2009). Music listening, coping, peer aﬃliation
and depression in adolescence. Psychol. Music 37, 215–233. doi:
Monteiro, N. M., and Wall, D. J. (2011). African dance as healing modality
throughout the diaspora: the use of ritual and movement to work through
trauma. J. Pan Afr. Stud. 4, 234–252.
Moore, G., and Pyke, S. (2007). Haunting passions: revising and revisiting
wuthering heights. Vic. Inst. J. 35, 239–250.
Petermann, S. (1996). Poetry memorization and trauma: surviving an earthquake.
J. Poet. Ther. 9, 149–154.
Pynoos, R. S., Steinberg, A. M., and Goenjian, A. (2007). “Traumatic stress in
childhood and adolescence: recent developments and curent controversies,” in
Traumatic Stress: The Eﬀects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body, and
Society, eds B. A. V. D. Kolk, A. C. McFarlane, and L. Weisaeth (New York, NY:
Guildford Press), 331–358.
Saarikallio, S. (2011). Music as emotional self-regulation throughout adulthood.
Psychol. Music 39, 307–332. doi: 10.1177/0305735610374894
Shields, C. (2001). Music education and mentoring as intervention for at-risk
urban adolescents: their self-perceptions, opinions, and attitudes. J. Res. Music
Educ. 49, 273–286. doi: 10.2307/3345712
Sutton, J. P. (2002). “Trauma,” in Music, Music Therapy and Trauma: International
Perspectives, ed J. P. Sutton (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers), 21–40.
Weathers, F. W., and Keane, T. M. (2007). The criterion a problem revisited:
controversies and challenges in deﬁning and measuring psychological trauma.
J. Trauma. Stress 20, 107–121. doi: 10.1002/jts.20210
Conﬂict of Interest Statement: The authors declare that the research was
conducted in the absence of any commercial or ﬁnancial relationships that could
be construed as a potential conﬂict of interest.
Copyright © 2015 Garrido, Baker, Davidson, Moore and Wasserman. This is an
open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution
License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted,
provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original
publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice.
No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these
Frontiers in Psychology | www.frontiersin.org 3July 2015 | Volume 6 | Article 977