Music therapy could be medicine for military personnel with PTSD

Despite the growing recognition of mental health disorder affecting armed forces personnel, many sufferers continue to miss out on vital cost-effective therapies that can help them recover, according to Daniel Thomas of Chroma, the UK’s leading national provider of arts therapy services.

Speaking at a special conference, organised by law firm, Bolt Burdon Kemp,  on 26 September, Daniel will say that while music therapy has been used to help rehabilitate veterans since World War II, many struggling to transition back into civilian life still have no access to the therapy.

Campaigns such as ‘Heads Together’, recently launched by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, have started to break down the stigma surrounding mental health.

However, with around 3% of military personnel assessed with a mental health disorder and many more going undiagnosed and untreated[1], the pain and suffering as well as financial loss can have wide ranging and long-term impact on sufferers, their family and on health services.

As well as supporting veterans’ rehabilitation following traumatic brain injury or other physical injuries, neurologic music therapy offers a powerful way to ease the symptoms of PTSD, depression, pain and anxiety as well as social relationships and isolation.

Daniel Thomas, joint managing director of Chroma, says: “Service personnel deserve access to the full spectrum of rehabilitation treatments available but not enough ex-servicemen and women have access to them all. There is considerable research that demonstrates people respond well to music as a treatment because it’s perceived as enjoyable and non-threatening.”

PTSD is one of the most common issues for returning military personnel and many can suffer from this for more than 15 years after combat, with 30% of sufferers dealing with this condition for the rest of their lives[2].

He adds, “PTSD is a normal reaction to abnormal events. Traumatic memories that cause PTSD are not stored like ‘normal’ memories, but music can by-pass cognitive appraisal to be used by the amygdala, the part of the brain which is responsible for emotions, survival instincts, and memory, in almost direct emotional processing.

“For many, talking therapies can be both distressing and intrusive and that’s why we developed a music therapy rehabilitation to help veterans. It’s something that works, as music is usually enjoyed in a safe environment, whilst also being evocative.

“Treatments such as music therapy can be a highly effective and cost-efficient approach. Specifically, in instances of PTSD, music therapy can help an individual to self-regulate through difficult emotional states and restore social relationships by fostering feelings of belonging.”

Ahmed Al-Nahhas, Partner and Solicitor Advocate in the Military Claims team at Bolt Burdon Kemp, says: “PTSD is a complex condition and many react differently to therapy, with varying success. So we are keen to encourage our client’s to explore with their therapists what works for them, including trying evidence-based therapies, such as music therapy, to help compliment first line PTSD treatment such as CBT and EDMR. Anything proven to help manage and relieve their symptoms should be embraced.”

[1] In 2015/16, 3.2% (6,000) Mental Health England.
[2] Schlenger et al. 1992.