I don't think any one of us would be surprised when I say that being human can be hard. Being a singer can be hard. And sometimes the hard parts result in trauma that can linger and manifest in ways that are less than convenient, to say the least.
There's been a lot of discussion in the last few years about trauma related to singing. For some it has been in how they were treated (really, mistreated) by teachers. For others, the way the industry has a habit of chewing people up and spitting them out as if they are expendable has caused lasting hurt. And yet for others, trauma unrelated to singing, seemingly, can show up in how we sing. It's complicated, and each person's story is unique and valid.
Trauma can also be a bit of a buzzword, so let me define here what I'm talking about specifically, so we can be sure we're on the same page. I'm taking this definition from the wonderful Megan Durham at Respire Vocal Wellness. (I highly recommend following her on Instagram to get a good start on understanding trauma-informed pedagogy.) I'm paraphrasing, but she defined trauma as something that happens beyond our capacity to handle it. That's a bit of a vague definition, but on purpose because each person's ability to process and deal with a situation in the moment is going to be different based on a variety of factors, including maturity, all the other things that also have to be managed, past experiences, family history, and on and on. That's why something that may roll off your back as a voice teacher may greatly impact one of your students, and vice versa. What constitutes trauma is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing.
Trauma-informed pedagogy is also a bit of a buzzword lately, but I think we are making good strides, as an industry, to value the individual more and more as we build our studios. This benefits our students because we can help them find the best fit for what they need, even if it isn't with us. There are teachers out there for every student. That's different than how I started my business, trying to be a teacher for every student. For a singer who has significant trauma in their past related to their voice, it can make a huge difference to be with the right person to help support them in the moment they are in.
Now, being a trauma-informed teacher is a big undertaking. There's a whole lot to learn, and I'm not even going to get very far into it with this blog post. Indeed, there are folks like Megan who know much more about it than I do, and I'm happy to point you in their direction. But I do think one thing that all of us can do to help break the cycle of trauma is to make the commitment, as best as we are able, to do no harm.
While I admit it's very, very easy to say that I will do no harm to any of my clients, there's no way that any of us will get through the rest of our careers without making some mistakes, and even hurting someone, however unintentionally. One of the best things we can do as teachers is to be quick to sincerely apologize when we've done something to cause harm to a student. And please remember that when our intentions are good, the outcomes may not always be. If you find that the impact of your words, actions, or policies has a negative effect on someone, it's a wonderful opportunity for growth and change. Apologize early when something goes awry, and it may go a long way to help heal.
Voice studios and choirs have very often been safe places for folks who are having a hard time with the world, and I hope we continue to foster that safe place in our communities. We will have a generational impact on singers when we commit to doing our best to value the individual singers in our care, and honor their journeys.
What other ideas do you have? How have you begun the work of becoming more trauma-informed? I'd love to hear what is working well for you, and even anything that you've found to be unhelpful. Send me a message to let me know about it, or comment below. This is valuable work, and your effort will be worth it!