Original Research

South African music learners and psychological trauma: educational solutions to a societal dilemma

Inette Swart
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 9, No 1 | a221 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v9i1.221 | © 2013 Inette Swart | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 08 March 2016 | Published: 31 July 2013

About the author(s)

Inette Swart, North-West University, Potchefstroom Campus, South Africa

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Emotional trauma affects a large proportion of the South African population. This article addresses its influence on music learners, including its effects on brain development, relational development, learning and music-making. The power of the educator to reshape a child’s brain by providing a nurturing and consistent environment is stressed. The effect of the environment in modulating epigenetic expression is discussed in conjunction with object relations theory as a model for human relations. Brain-damaging consequences of early attachment trauma can be reversed by healing these patterns through the educational system. Music teachers’ observations of how trauma influenced their students’ music-making, emotional expression, memory and relational patterns, students’ observed recoveries from trauma, and the influence of teachers’ own experiences on their appraisal of students’ experiences are discussed. The article also examines the advice of healthcare professionals to teachers and the latter’s legal responsibilities in terms of the reporting of abuse. This is done with reference to responsibilities regarding witnessing and referring, and the possibility of empowering learners through unlearning helplessness and fear. Treatment strategies discussed include pharmacological intervention, psychotherapeutic intervention such as Cognitive- Behavioural Therapy, hypnosis, Eye Movement Integration Therapy and Somatic Experiencing. Music can serve as an object relationship representing human experience, expressing the movement of feelings, bypassing the cortical function and expressing what words cannot. It can aid in repairing damaged communication processes and restore the sense of bodily connectedness. Suggested future directions include the incorporation of teaching modules on educational psychology in music teachers’ training curricula, providing support for students, reducing the risk of secondary traumatisation to professionals, and transdisciplinary collaboration.

Keywords: Brain development, educators, epigenetic expression, integration, previously disadvantaged, trauma

Disciplines: Education, music education, psychology, sociology


Education; music education; psychology; sociology


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