Dr. Dan Allender: Trauma, Our Personal Stories, and Recovery through Music

Dr. Dan Allender, Trauma, Music, Spiritual Abuse Recovery, Personal Stories



Those who have been reading here for a while know how important I believe it is for survivors to tell their abuse stories. It took a while for us to believe the lies our church leader(s) told us about who we are and who God is. Eventually, through manipulation and deceit, we then told ourselves those lies. These “recordings” played over and over in our minds until they were perceived as normal. This is all part of thought reform, patterns of coercion, manipulation, and control, that cult leaders use to keep us emotionally and spiritually bound to them and their teachings.

When we are finally in a place where we can identify truth from lies, we still have to wrestle with the recordings that play in our minds that attempt to shift us back to the dangerous teachings we heard. I strongly believe that hearing ourselves speak the truth when we tell our stories will eventually override the old and damaging recordings in our mind.

I believe this is why many survivors have a need to tell our stories over and over again. It doesn’t mean we are living in the past. No. I believe it means we are validating our experience and further pushing that false and destructive narrative out of our minds.

Telling stories is empowering. It gives us strength to stand on our own two feet and use our critical thinking skills. We own our stories, even though they are negative. But now, as we tell our stories safe from our abuser, we are in control, not our abusive spiritual leaders. We speak not as one who remains stuck as a victim, but as a survivor who can incorporate the negative experience into the fabric of our bigger life story in a positive way. It shapes us, it softens and humbles us. It still hurts at times, but we can become more resilient and intentional with this trauma behind us.

May we never tire of listening to the stories of survivors. When we do listen, we validate them and help them to become whole. Also, if we are survivors, may we never tire of telling our stories without apologies. It may be just what a listener needs to hear.

Lately, I’ve been reading about our body’s response to trauma, and this 2-minute video is fascinating. In it, Dr. Dan Allender helps us to understand the power of music used as a healing agent in relation to trauma.


I’ve been a lifelong musician (pianist and vocalist).

Yet in my darkest days, the one thing that left me

was what I love the most,

the music that spontaneously played in my heart.


Although I played the piano during praise and worship at my cult “church” and enjoyed it, I lost my love of singing. I didn’t have songs playing in my heart.

Some may recall that it was music  — me accompanying my son’s high school choir  — that helped me to get out of my cult. I looked at the world differently when I was participating in the choir. I didn’t hear my pastor’s evil words telling me that everyone who was not going to his church was probably on their way to hell. Instead, I saw people for who they were – unique individuals created in God’s image.

This was the beginning of the process of me separating from the cult. When I was busy with the high school choir, it gave me time to think of other things outside the church. Previously, the church kept my mind so busy, I didn’t have time to think. Now, at the high school choir, I gained back my self, my critical thinking, my own thoughts and questions. I came back to life again. At one time during a Wednesday night choral performance, I remember feeling a tinge of guilt come over me – I had missed the Wednesday night meeting at church. But my mind said, “I don’t care.” That was a healthy response! The idea that I played secular choral music on the piano without my pastor’s oversight or permission was so liberating. There’s probably nothing scientifically significant about my experience with music that allowed me to wake up, but I’ve always acknowledged that it was that choir experience that was pivotal in my spiritual abuse journey.

In the following video, Dr. Allender takes the topic of music a step further and notes (pun) the physical responses in our brain when we experience trauma, and then add music. He discusses how our brain physically heals through music. I love this. Is it any wonder we see so much in the Bible about worship and music? I was always impressed in the Old Testament that there was an emphasis on using trained musicians to lead music. God wanted good musicians to lead people. And when people sang and worshiped, they were moved emotionally and spiritually. And I have no doubt that many were healed through music.

So, if you are recovering from spiritual abuse or any kind of trauma for that matter, I encourage you to play music, and SING!  Your brain can regain what was lost as a result of trauma! Watch the video, it’s around 2 minutes long.