Music as Mantra’s-Finding healing through songs.

Listening to Tori Amos’s music probably saved my identity.  I don’t want to say “saved my life” because I am not sure if my life was ever in jeopardy.  But, my identity was and I think that, on some level, losing one’s identity (or never finding it in the first place) is a horrifying thought.

When I found Tori’s music I was a junior in high school and had just gotten out of a terrible, abusive relationship that lasted much longer than it should have.  I was seventeen and really had no idea who I was.  This was compounded with the fact that I lived in a small town where gossip spread like wildfire and where everyone seemed to have an opinion about what had happened to me.  So, not only was I trying to heal from something very destructive, I was also trying to be a teenager in a very suffocating place.  I had no idea who I was or what I wanted to become.

Then a friend of mine gave me a copy of Tori Amos’s CD Little Earthquakes.  Just like many Tori Amos fans have said, that CD changed everything.  It required me to listen and interpret the song lyrics, to adjust them to my emotions and to find mantra’s in songs like “Girl” (Everybody else’s girl, maybe one day she’ll be her own”).  I began listening to all her songs on a loop (at the time she had three albums out) and found myself transfixed by this person who seemed to understand what I was going through, even though we had never met.

As I grew older and began the long journey that was my college and graduate education I found myself turning to Tori’s music for more than healing (although healing was still certainly a major component).  I began to see it as a guide through things like politics (the album American Doll Posse took on George W. Bush and his policies), the experience of Native people (with the album Scarlet’s Walk), international relations (the song Juarez which addressed the rape and murder of women in Juarez long before the media started covering it) as well as my own feminism.

When it came time for me to pick a dissertation topic for my PhD I workshopped an idea about the ways women have used music as a means to heal themselves as part of a holistic health class I was taking.  I was surprised at how positive my classmate’s responses were, especially since none of them had heard of Tori or her music.  With this in mind, in the summer of 2009, I began interviewing women who are fans of Tori Amos to find out what it was that drew them to her music.  The results of this study demonstrated to me that music goes beyond being a powerful healing force, music reflects the experience of the listener and becomes a way for a person to engage in self care.

But, specifically for women, music that tells the story of another women’s experience is particularly powerful, especially if the song is written and performed by another woman.  Many of the women I interviewed were survivors of sexual or physical abuse.  For them, Tori’s music took them on a journey to self-healing because the songs spoke to Tori’s own experience overcoming sexual assault.  Another common theme was experiences women had had with miscarriage.  One women, in particular, told me the story of a pregnancy that was the result of her rape and the miscarriage that followed.  Knowing that Tori has been through miscarriages, and had written entire albums about the experience, gave many women a guide, a way to help them heal.  The result of this study is my forthcoming book, “Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos.

In holistic health it is taught that people cannot heal unless their mind, body and spirit are all being worked on.  This is what I think music does for people.  I spoke with many rape survivors who told me they write down song lyrics in their journal’s and use them as bullet points to express what they are feeling, because doing this in a journal is a safe place.  I met a woman, who was healing from breast cancer, who told me that her best healing takes place in the car on her way home from work because she can scream along with the music she is playing and release her tension.  Many people talk about blasting a CD (or IPod playlist) while creating art, that the music gives them a rhythm to help them create.  One woman in particular, who is dealing with a disease that left her disabled, told me about her “painting songs”, a playlist created to get her motivated to create her art.  For myself, music becomes mantra’s in my head that will often punctuate what I am feeling.  Sometimes I am aware of what they mean and sometimes I let them pass through and assume that the meaning will come to me later.

I hope to explore the ways that music can be a tool in your “healing kit” in future posts.  I hope you can offer me suggestions or share your own way(s) of using music to heal in the comments.  Until next time, one of my favorite quotes from Leo Tolstoy, “Music is the shorthand of emotion.”

Adrienne Trier-Bieniek, PhD is the author of the forthcoming book, “Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos” which will be release by Scarecrow Press.  She has written for The Orlando Sentinel and the journals “Qualitative Research” and “Humanity and Society.”  She is currently a faculty member in sociology at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida and she studies the ways pop culture influences ideas about gender.  She also runs the Facebook page “Pop Culture Feminism.”

Trafficking Survivor’s Film Launches UK Campaign

In a world where the trafficking of humans has become the second-largest criminal industry after drug dealing, a child-trafficking survivor launches a campaign for social change, with the screening of her powerfully moving, autobiographical film on 9 April in London.

Raven Kaliana with PuppetsHooray for Hollywood, a film for adult audiences, written and directed by Raven Kaliana, artist, human rights activist, and survivor, utilises puppetry to highlight the intersection of trafficking and familial abuse with organised crime, shown from a child’s point of view. A Talkback Panel discussion, facilitated by Anita Amendra (Project Manager, Sustainable Communities Programme, Initiatives of Change) will follow the film, featuring: Raven Kaliana (Outspiral), Adam Weiss (The AIRE Centre – Advice on Individual Rights in Europe), and Esther Davidson (OXCAT – Oxford Community Against Trafficking).

Kaliana states: ‘It’s my goal to humanize this issue – bring it into public discourse, so that it’s not taboo to talk about this crime… So that the perpetrators, however monstrous their actions, become in the mind’s eye only human… So that the children, however anonymised by the medium of their abuse, become living people with faces, names, families. We can begin to view this as a social problem that people who are also ‘only human’ can address. It is by caring that you unlock the door.’

Trafficking is modern day slavery, with children and adults held captive and sexually exploited in the UK and world-wide. Increased public awareness can help prevent children and vulnerable adults from falling victim and help survivors to safety. Lydia Cacho, international authority on trafficking, states: ‘The global sex industry has HoorayForHollywood-FilmStill(c)2011RavenKaliana,camera by GordonAnderson3-hirescreated a market for sex slaves that may soon outnumber the African slaves sold from the 1500s to the 1800s…The means to fight this crime lie in the hands of the world’s citizens.’

Kaliana established Outspiral in 2011, an organisation which employs puppet-based film and theatre productions for adults, combined with training, to raise public awareness in efforts to prevent the crimes of human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.

Initiatives of Change, Sustainable Communities Programme in collaboration with Outspiral presents Hooray for Hollywood as the first in a series of awareness-raising and skills-building events to build stronger communication between agencies, foster understanding of the effects of trauma, address legal enforcement issues, and enlist members and leaders of spiritual communities to take a proactive approach to protecting children and trafficked adults.

The Sustainable Communities Programme supports, promotes and works with community projects like Outspiral. Currently, the Programme provides practical advice and assistance to a range of community-based organisations, many of which engage in the arts or provide trainings working towards community cohesion, justice and protection of vulnerable people in the UK.

The event will take place at the Initiatives of Change Centre in London at 24 Greencoat Place, Victoria, London SW1P 1RD from 18:00-20:00 on Tuesday 9th April 2013.  Entry is free, but booking is essential – RSVP to or call 020 7798 6000.


Child Sexual Abuse Causes Seizures

Understanding Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures (PNES)

When children are sexually abused they can have seizures. These seizures are a defense mechanism, protecting them from terrible pain and what they perceive as certain death. The mind/body instinctively knows how to dissociate from the trauma and does so using the seizure.

When the chronic abuse that the child suffers eventually ends, the need for the seizure defense also ends. But that experience is stored inside. Often children will bury that pain and horror and effectively keep it blocked out of their consciousness. But years later in adulthood they may re-experience these seizures. This often happens when they are in a safe environment and good relationships. The mind/body can then try to rid itself of the pain and grief that has built up and needs releasing. Flashbacks occur of the original trauma and associated feelings, triggering the seizures which again act as a defense mechanism. These flashbacks must be understood and with the appropriate therapy the seizures can be overcome.

What are PNES and how common are they?

There are as many as half a million people suffering from psychogenic nonepileptic seizures in the U.S. alone. About 30% of patients seen at epilepsy centers are actually experiencing PNES vs. epileptic seizures. And too often they are misdiagnosed as having epileptic seizures which can lead to being prescribed anti-epileptic drugs which are ineffective and costly. And receiving a correct diagnosis often ends up taking many years.

The major difference between the two is that PNES do not register abnormal brain wave activity during an Electroencephalograph (EEG) test. These seizures are true seizures and they are not under voluntary control. Epileptic seizures register abnormal brain wave activity and can be caused by head injuries, infections, genetic factors and other physiological causes. However, about 70% of the cases of epilepsy have no known cause according to the Epilepsy Foundation.

Lowering the Shield

My new eBook, Lowering the Shield – Overcoming Psychogenic Nonepileptic Seizures, is about psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) and how to find the best treatments for them. I share the life experiences of my wife who suffered from them in childhood due to sexual abuse as well as our journey together when they returned in adulthood. You will learn what PNES are, how they are diagnosed and how to find the best treatment providers. I also share the story of my wife’s courageous journey of understanding and overcoming the effects of PNES through a unique and effective treatment method. Please visit my website to order and check out my blog too.

You’re not alone and I hope to help you in your healing journey.