Fifteen percent of infantrymen returning from the Middle East are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Most of them never get the help they need, instead choosing to deal with their symptoms on their own. Almost every infantryman deployed in the Middle East is involved in at least one traumatic situation that could lead to PTSD. Unfortunately, many soldiers never seek treatment for the disorder, and almost 50 percent that start treatment stop before its completion. This may be due to the wide range of treatments and to a negative stigma surrounding such treatments.
Military.com describes PTSD as stemming from “a life-threatening event like military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape.”
There are many options for treatment of PTSD, ranging from the traditional methods of talk therapy and the use of anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressants, to less traditional methods such as fly fishing, video games and music therapy.
Among the myriad of treatments for PTSD, music therapy brings me a particular amount of hope. Music therapy has been used to ease soldiers’ stress and anxiety since World War I, well before PTSD itself was a concrete concept.
Music therapy for PTSD exists in many forms, such as playing and listening, sleep therapy, muscle therapy and healing broken family units.
The Connecticut-based Operations Music Aid is one of many great charities bringing music therapy to veterans in need. Founded by George Hauer and Clark Kniceley, the charity sends musical instruments to wounded veterans.
“We contact the hospitals, and they tell us what they could use,” said Hauser to Making Music Magazine. “These soldiers need our help getting their lives back together.”
Operations Music Aid’s instruments don’t only emotionally help wounded soldiers. The ability to make chords on an instrument also helps with damaged muscle memory or getting used to a new prosthetic.
“Thanks for the instrument,” a soldier wrote Hauer and Kniceley. “It means so much as I’m trying to learn to replay the guitar after losing my arm.”
Some seek music therapy on their own, such as Sgt. Leo Dunson. Dunson has released five rap albums in the past four years. Many of his songs deal with PTSD and his time in the military.
“Music is keeping me alive,” said Dunson to The Associated Press.
More traditionally, music therapy is simply used as a soothing tool. Dr. Mary Rorro of New Jersey, better known as the “Violin Doc,” uses this approach by playing the viola to her patients.
Unfortunately, music therapy treatment for PTSD is still a growing field, and treatment for PTSD still holds a strong stigma for many diagnosed and undiagnosed soldiers.
“Today’s soldiers are professionals, rather than draftees, and don’t want psychological testing to prevent them from deploying,” retired Lt. Col. David Johnson told Stripes. “The Army needs to reduce the stigma associated with PTSD and let people know it doesn’t hurt your career.”
Before one can heal, one must be willing to ask for help. For many, this is not an easy thing, and it is the number one problem with support for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Vocally bringing less-daunting treatments such as music therapy to the forefront of PTSD treatment could help diagnosed veterans feel more comfortable asking for the help that they need.