I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. -Psalm 104:33
There is a strong connection between the arts and therapeutic healing. Oftentimes, our hearts and minds are so broken through trauma that we don’t even understand what we need to do to heal – let alone do it. Creativity expressed through predominantly right-brain activities (dancing, singing, painting, expressive writing, etc.) allows broken parts in us to find a voice when our own words may fail us.
And this isn’t just psycho-babble.
The right hemisphere of the brain is the seat of emotions, intuition, and visualization. Our imagination and connection to music are also controlled through this half of the brain. The left hemisphere is the seat of analytic thought, reasoning, language, and math. Our ability to understand a series of events logically is also controlled by the left hemisphere.
Traditional therapies rely heavily upon the left side of the brain. They require the use of language to describe and communicate, or logic to understand a series of events, or analytic thought to recognize the whys and whats of trauma and then assimilate them into a broader context of victim/survivor/perpetrator definitions. Cognitive behavioral therapy, traditional talk-therapy, and support groups all work based on the assumption that understanding and defining a person’s trauma, and its impact upon the individual, will heal a victim. And this is not wholly unfounded. We are often far more afraid of the unknown than the known. Trauma victims disassociate during horrific events and so, even while they experienced firsthand their own trauma, they are often unable to recall or grasp it as a series of literal events. Establishing a timeline and then learning to see events in light of a beginning, middle, and end does an incredible amount of good towards healing victims caught in a world where their emotional reality has never closed the door on that traumatic event. Their brain doesn’t understand that what they experienced in the past is actually over. Bringing the mind of a victim to bear upon the truth that they are already a survivor by merit of being alive, and being on the other side of whatever hurt them, is an essential step towards complete recovery.
But this step is almost always costly. It requires an immense amount of time investing in a trusting relationship with a reputable therapist, and the price tag is rarely free.
However, if traditional talk-therapy were more regularly supplemented with non-traditional therapy in the form of right-brain dominant activities, the overall cost in both time and resources could be significantly reduced for many trauma victims. Why?
Trauma affects a person’s whole body – mind and all. But while the body may heal from physical wounds, the brain is much more complicated. And events that tear at the fabric of a person’s ability to grasp reality, pain, horror, or overwhelming helplessness often trigger the brain to dissociate. In order to survive, the brain does this miraculous thing where it separates a person’s conscious understanding of the physical world from their emotional experience of it. Suddenly, you have a victim who can calmly articulate the abuse they suffered without a hint of emotion or, contrarily, sob uncontrollably at a triggering event without having the faintest idea of why they are so upset.
Therefore, the most holistic approach to healing reconnects the right and left hemispheres of the brain so the victim can understand what happened, grieve it, and move forward with the knowledge that they survived and still have purpose and power over their futures. Healing needs the imagination to visualize futures free of pain and abuse. Healing requires articulating experiences, which defines events with beginnings and endings. Healing utilizes free-form expression to access deep-seated emotions that the conscious mind may not even recognize.
Healing, above all, puts a person back together and allows them to know that their whole selves experienced a painful event, but that their whole selves can move forward into a future full of possibilities.
We are making concerted choices to develop right-brain dominant hobbies in all our children – because although not all our children suffered directly, all our children are absolute victims of this situation. Through dance, singing, playing musical instruments, and painting, Savannah, Ginny, Georgia, Olivia, Nathan, and even Hope are activating their right brains on a regular basis. And we are beginning to see a genuine benefit. In our primary victims, mood stabilization and appropriate responses are heightened when they regularly engage in these activities. For our secondary victims, patience and understanding towards the process are night and day better when we make the time for dancing and singing.
I love the verse quoted above. I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. We are trying to teach our children to sing to their Lord; the only one who can truly redeem their pain. And that singing is not dependent upon their feelings or their circumstances. We sing because we have being. And He uses that to heal us.