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singing and trauma

Three Books to Introduce You to Neuroscience and Trauma ⏱ 3 mins

Here are three informative books that will help you feel more confident about what to say and do when working with students experiencing grief or trauma.

Emily Foulkes knows only too well that music is a powerful therapeutic tool – she’s worked in the field of music for well-being for two decades and has trained 100 singing practitioners in trauma and mental health-informed practice.

On the latest episode of the Singing Teachers Talk podcast, Emily explains why she thinks it’s beneficial for singing teachers to have an insight into the subject of trauma.

“Singing teachers do end up with people pouring things out to them,” Emily says. “So it’s important that we learn techniques to deal with that – while staying firmly in our lane and knowing what we can and can’t do.

“Having an awareness of how trauma can affect the body and the nervous system, and having some techniques to manage that, will be of great benefit because singing is so opening.”

Recommended reading

Emily suggests teachers interested in taking a deeper dive into the subject could start by reading the authors Bessel van der Kolk, Peter Levine and Steven Porges. 

1 The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk

Bessel van der Kolk believes that trauma isn’t just stored in the brain but in the body too. Hence, why people with PTSD often experience muscle tension, nausea, back pain, digestion issues and auto-immune illnesses.

For this reason, treating PTSD shouldn’t focus just on talking therapies, but should also include physical activities such as yoga, mindfulness, and massage.

Van der Kolk’s book draws on scientific research and his experiences working with ex-soldiers and victims of abuse and neglect. 

Since its publication in 2014, The Body Keeps the Score has sold two million copies. A word of warning, though: some of the case studies are harrowing and could be triggering for victims of trauma. 

2 Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma – The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences by Peter Levine

Peter Levine has written several books, of which Waking The Tiger is perhaps his best known. The book explores the powerful impulses that influence our body’s response to specific events. 

Levine argues – along similar lines to van der Kolk – that sometimes the body doesn’t ‘normalise’ after a significant event; instead, it stores the trauma. 

“Trauma is not what happens to us,” he writes. “But what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.”

3 The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation by Stephen Porges

Professor Stephen Porges’ book explores our primitive neurobiological defence systems – or in other words, why we behave the way we do when we feel threatened. 

So what is the Polyvagal Theory? For many years, theoretical trauma models identified two basic states of the autonomic nervous system: the social/communicative one we use when we feel safe, and the fight of flight state (mobilisation) when we’re under threat. Polyvagal theory identifies a third branch: shutdown (immobilisation). 

These three states are hierarchical. So when we feel safe, we socialise, analyse, negotiate, rest and digest. But when we detect a threat, our primitive fight or flight mode takes over. If this system fails to get us out of danger, the body shifts into shutdown mode to conserve energy for the most basic functions. 

Learn more 

To discover more about Emily’s work, listen to her interview on the Singing Teachers Talk podcast. Find out how:

  • She got started in her career.
  • Her work with people with chronic pain
  • What to do if a patient breaks down emotionally in a lesson.

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