Pedagogical Implications for Teaching Students with a History of Sexual Trauma: An Essay regarding the Q&A Session following the Presentation


  • Grace Johnson Independent Scholar, California, USA


Singers with a history of sexual trauma may respond differently from the general population to standard vocal pedagogical approaches. Psychological and somatic response to sexual trauma can impact the most basic elements of singing, such as breathing, muscle synergism, performance excitement, and memory. Furthermore, symptoms associated with post-trauma can compromise not only vocal performance but also the voice itself. Some conventional pedagogical practices can be ineffective and even harmful for singers dealing with effects of post-trauma. This is especially evident in exercises, therapies, and techniques that address breathing and relaxation. The teacher with an overall understanding of symptoms of post-trauma and their significance to singing will be better equipped to make decisions about touch, breathing, relaxation exercises, referrals, and/or other areas in which a student’s response might differ from the norm. A teacher so informed will be less likely to be caught off-guard, more likely to avoid harm, and, ideally, better equipped to assist students in recovery of their voices—the literal singing voice and the figurative voice of self-hood. The figurative use of the word “voice” as “self” is found throughout the psychology literature regarding trauma. The secrecy associated with sexual assault is described as “silencing the voice” and healing from post-trauma effects is termed “finding one’s voice.” In addition, the loss of voice for a singer is compounded by grief and crisis of identity. Nonetheless, teachers can be assured that the act of singing carries the power to heal psychological injury--singing can heal the singer. They are in a privileged position to guide the injured student toward recovery.

Author Biography

Grace Johnson, Independent Scholar, California, USA

Grace Johnson has taught voice and choral/general music for over four decades for students ranging from pre-kindergarten through graduate school. Her numerous lectures and workshops stemming from her doctoral research, The Effects of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) on the Adult Singing Voice (Shenandoah University, 2004) have afforded her the opportunity to have ongoing conversation with singing teachers and students with a history of CSA. In addition to several scholarly articles regarding psychology and singing, she self-published a children’s book about stage fright, The Little Fish Who Was Afraid to Swim (Author House, 2008). Currently, she teaches voice at the Gorin School of Music and Choral/General Music at the Carden School, both in the San Francisco Bay area in California.