The tragedy in Charleston brings to mind other, similar events; Mass shootings, which have afflicted communities and the wider world, resonating beyond state and national boundaries. Therapists are developing strategies for healing that go beyond words.
Jim Borling is Professor of Music Therapy at Radford University. He visits Newtown Connecticut every few months. Even now, the grief is still strong for many after a man fatally shot 20 students and six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December. 14, 2012. Borling is working to help the community there as it continues to process the experience, just as people do in Blacksburg at Virginia Tech and now in Charleston, South Carolina
“Part of what we’re dealing with in any situation like this, be it Virginia Tech or Sandy Hook or elsewhere is the principal of re-traumatization. So if I keep saying, ‘the shootings at Sandy Hook, I may in fact be creating a re-traumatizing event for my listener. “
He says in Connecticut, people now use the term, 12 -14, like 9-11 and in Blacksburg, 4/ 16. Borling says it’s important to consider language and expression around people who are suffering trauma. Strong emotions have a way of coloring the way words affect people who have experienced tragedy.
“And the simplest phrase for example I may be in New Town, Connecticut and if I use a phrase like I’m going to shoot them an email, well somebody’s going to respond to that and hear that in a very different way than you might or I in the way I might have intended.”
Borling says moving beyond language has been shown to help people with the healing process. He has organized drumming circles after ineffable tragedies.
“Some people would say, ”Wait a minute. The drums are too powerful. They could be an auditory reminder of some type of tragic sound or paralyzing sound, but the truth of the matter is, when clinically or artfully presented that drum circle provides a container within which people can connect to each other They don’t need to talk about something, they just are in the presence of each other moving their body playing the drums, being in close proximity to one another.”
“It’s pretty well documented that when tragedies happen, even things like simple grief if that’s possible, we hold those experiences in our body. I like to say we hold them in the cells of our body. Now, words are powerful but words don’t honor necessarily that biological experience of trauma held in my body. When we engage somebody in active music making in an intentional and safe in a predictable and controlled way, we’re providing them the opportunity to move that energy and to heal on a level that words may not be able to reach”
Professor Jim Borling is Director of Music Therapy at Radford University with a private in music therapy in the New River Valley.