How music is helping the 'Horror House' Turpin children heal

Elise Solé
The 13 siblings from the Turpin family are healing from severe trauma with the help of music. (Photo: Facebook)

The Turpin siblings who were found chained and starved in their parents’ California home are recovering with the help of music.

On Friday, the 13 victims between the ages of 2 and 29 sat for a private performance by Grammy-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma at the Corona Regional Center, where they’re known as the “Magnificent 13.” According to local paper the Press-Enterprise, some are learning to play the guitar as part of their recovery at the center.

“We’re enormously thankful to Yo-Yo Ma for coming and sharing his love of music,” Linda Pearson, marketing director at the center, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “He was very inspiring.”

In January, authorities found the extremely malnourished siblings “shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings” in their Perris home after their 17-year-old sister had climbed out the window and called 911. Parents David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, pled not guilty to charges of cruelty to a child; torture, abuse of a dependent adult; child abuse or neglect; and false imprisonment, per CBS News.

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy emerged in the 20th century after musicians visited World War I and World War II veterans who had suffered emotional and physical trauma. After patients responded positively to the music, colleges began adopting the study of music therapy, and the profession took off.

The healing effects of music have also been studied in laboratories with research pointing to music as a method for lowering the physiological response to stress, inducing relaxation, and boosting mood.

“We use music in our personal lives to help us work, relax, or sleep, but music therapy is applying the scientific effects of music on the brain and using it to process feelings or work through trauma,” Julie Guy, a board-certified music therapist at the Music Therapy Center of California, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“Music triggers the brain’s limbic system which is the control center for all our emotions,” she adds. “MRI studies have shown listening to or watching music lights up the entire area like a Christmas tree.” What’s more, the brain stores music appreciation separately, in what scientists call an “independent memory for music.”

“That’s why hospice patients with dementia are able to hum melodies or recall musical lyrics,” says Guy, “and why we teach children the ABCs with a song.”

Music therapy is especially useful to teens and kids, including those with autism, who may not be able to express their feelings verbally.

For people who have undergone trauma, there are a variety of ways to heal through music. “We may do a lyric analysis intervention where we study the meaning behind a certain song and discuss how it relates to a person’s life,” says Guy. “The patient could also write or improvise a song or play an instrument that gives them a nonverbal voice.”

One of the biggest misconceptions about music therapy is that it centers solely around classical music. “The reality is, music therapy will only work if a patient enjoys the song,” says Guy. “That could be through Beethoven or Metallica.”

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