Using music to beat down PTSD and TBI

Julia LeDoux
March 11, 2019 - 12:57 pm
Participants in CAMMO songwriting workshop

Photo courtesy of CAMMO

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Writing and performing songs is just one of the ways Army veteran Eric J. Haynes copes with PTSD and the effects of a traumatic brain injury he suffered 13 years ago while serving in Iraq.

“Music helps me heal,” he said.

Haynes was among 25 active duty service members and veterans who wrote, recorded and performed songs at a workshop put on by the Center for American Military Music Opportunities (CAMMO) March 9 in Arlington, Va.

“Music kind of takes me to another place,” he said. “It helps you process what you go through. I could not have gone through a deployment in Iraq and the ending of my 25-year marriage if I wasn’t musically able to get that out.”

Haynes was a teenager when he wrote his first song but was self-conscious and didn’t begin sharing his music with others until recently. He suffered a TBI when he fell 15 feet and landed on his head while deployed to Iraq in 2006.

“The songs I wrote coming back from Iraq helped me heal,” he said

Jason Hanna is currently on active duty in the Army, a doctoral candidate studying PTSD at the Uniformed Services University and a volunteer life support coach at CAMMO.  He said traumatic brain injuries scramble the way the brain works and how people who suffer them think. Music can help rewire the brain and help people cope with the effects of a TBI, he said.

“Music is an instrument that is totally transformative,” Hanna said.

Janna urged those with PTSD or TBI to simply give music therapy a chance as they work to find their “new normal.”

“You don’t have to take any pills, you don’t have to drink anything, all you have to do is listen,” he said.

The roots of music therapy can be traced back to 1945, when music was used to recondition patients in U.S. Army hospitals. Haynes said writing and singing songs has been beneficial to his recovery.

“It’s very therapeutic for myself,” he said. “Music is a universal language, it really is. Just like my service dog. She doesn’t care what language you speak. She just loves.”

CAMMO is a nonprofit organization that was established in 2009.

“We focus on music and music as therapy with the military community,” said CAMMO co-founder and executive director Cathie Lechareas.

Lechareas, who is a Navy veteran, said music allows participants to tell their story.

The songwriting workshop was broken down into four different groups - advanced for those with songwriting and recording experience; urban hip hop; beginners who have never written before and a group that brought songs they had written with them.

"If we help someone through this process, that’s what we want to do,” she said. “There’s a lot of evidence that shows that music helps not only with PTSD and TBI, but Alzheimer’s patients as well.”

Vicki Golding has been a member of the Army National Guard Band for 13 years. She is also a volunteer with CAMMO who used the songwriting workshop to write and record a song about the impact of her recently ended relationship had on her.

“I’m an emotional person,” she said. “If I was not able to sing, I would probably shrivel up and die.”

To learn more about CAMMO, visit its website. 

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