People enduring severe stress often dream of finding a place that is perfectly quiet and still, where the only sound available is the sound of breathing. While it might sound ideal, the reality might be much too difficult to tolerate. For example, according to news reports, the quietest place in the world is a specially designed room in Minneapolis that is 99.9 percent sound absorbent. People who stay in this room, however, tend to hallucinate if left there for more than just a few minutes. Without sound, life becomes a bit difficult, not more relaxing.
Sound therapy strives to provide patients with soothing, synchronized sounds. While there are many ways in which sound therapy is provided, and some might seem slightly more unusual than others, the goal of most of these programs is to bring the participant a sense of inner peace and harmony. In other words, by providing the right kind of noise, instead of the absence of noise, the world might become a more peaceful place for the person to live in.
Humans have many other senses, aside from sound. It can be hard to determine, therefore, why sound therapy would be so beneficial, as opposed to touch therapy or light therapy. Mitchell L. Gaynor, Director of Medical Oncology at Cornell University’s Center of Complementary and Integrative Medicine explains the power of sound in this way: “When you consider the fact that hearing begins four and a half months before the fetus is born…you realize that using music and harmony and voice as a regular practice, both for wellness and recovery from illness, is one of the most powerful things that people could do.”
The Power of Sound
It’s easy to come up with anecdotal proof that certain sounds can increase a feeling of peace. For example, manufacturers sell products that create soft whooshes of wind or tiny chirpings of birds in flight. When listening to these sounds, most people claim that they feel slightly more relaxed and more likely to feel sleepy and at ease. Similarly, people who listen to classical music or soft piano scores might also feel soothed and calm. A quick glance around a crowded concert hall during a classical music performance can show how relaxing this music can be, as many participants will be nodding off to sleep as the show progresses.
Ancient cultures often used the power of music in order to increase a sense of peacefulness and increase healing. Some cultures used targeted therapies, in which musical instruments were developed to make specific noises that were associated with health. Then, those instruments were struck in specific sequences along specific parts of the person’s body to influence healing. Other cultures encouraged people to make music as part of their meditation exercises. Chants and ritualistic humming fits into this category. The idea here is that a group making music like this tends to align with one another and the divine, increasing a sense of peace and community.
It’s hard to know why music and musical noises have such power. One theory, published in the journal Medical Science Monitor, is that listening to music encourages the body to produce and utilize nitric oxide in a unique way, and this can lead to an increase in blood flow, and therefore a decreased sensation of illness and stress. It’s hard to say for sure, however, how music works in all people and what changes it seems to bring about on a chemical level. We might know that music makes us feel better, but at this point, researchers aren’t exactly sure why this is the case.
In order to determine if sound therapy might be helpful for you, try this quick experiment:
- Choose a piece of low, slow and uncomplicated music.
- Lie down in a darkened room.
- Play the music over headphones.
- Focus on your breathing as you listen.
- Relax your muscles into the floor.
- Keep your mind clear of everything but the music.
Music therapy sessions might be much more complicated than this, of course, but this exercise does help you to experience at least some of the benefits of music as it relates to relaxation.
Traditional Sound Therapy Sessions
Some people who provide sound therapy believe that all people are tuned to specific vibrations in their bodies. Through using specific tools, such as tuning forks, metal bowls, crystal bowls and tiny hand instruments, these sound therapy providers hope to synchronize people to a specific vibration or frequency. It might sound a little bit strange, or even a bit new age, but the sessions can be remarkably relaxing. You’ll walk into the session, lie down on a mat or a cushion, and the provider will encircle you and play tiny bits of music as you rest or focus on breathing or meditation. There’s very little that you’re required to do in these sessions, and as a result, you might find them great opportunities to focus on your meditation skills or your relaxation exercises. Some people even find them great places to sleep.
Traditional sound therapy sessions might also allow you to learn how to make music on your own. Your provider might encourage you to play instruments such as:
- Tibetan bowls
- Hand bells
- Native American drums
You’ll play at a pace that seems comfortable to you, while your therapist encourages you or talks you through specific imagery or ideas. Sometimes, you might even be encouraged to play in harmony with other people, allowing you to connect with others.
According to an article published in The Guardian, Patrick K. was given sound therapy, and he entered the session a skeptic. That didn’t last. As he states in the article, “Rising from the mat, I felt like my head had been cleansed of noise. The therapy reminded me of a mixture between hypnotherapy – it moved me into a deeply relaxed state – and a quiet summer afternoon.” Even though this man didn’t believe the therapy would work, he did find it relaxing and comforting.
Some therapists use modern techniques in order to reach their clients. Here, you might be given recorded pieces of music and you’ll be asked to listen closely to the music and regulate your breathing and your thoughts in order to help you stay in tune with the music. Again, this might be a useful way to help you relax and remove destructive thoughts from your mind. You might be encouraged to listen to this music at specific times of day, or you might be asked to slip on headphones for a private session when you’re feeling upset.
Other therapists encourage people to participate in drumming circles. Here, you’ll be a member of a large group of people who are all playing drums together. All types of drums are allowed, but people are encouraged to remember that they are players in a group. No showboating or solos are allowed. Instead, members try to reach a deep state of relaxation and community as they play. This can be quite soothing.
*Therapy and Tinnitus
Some people who have tinnitus, or persistent ringing in the ears, benefit from sound therapy. These patients are provided with specific types of music that are designed to help train the brain to ignore the high shrieks caused by tinnitus. According to a study published in the American Academy of Audiology, this music therapy is just as effective as other forms of therapy provided for people with this condition. This might be the only form of sound therapy covered by insurance plans, as it’s been proven effective in a series of rigorous tests.
Sound therapy might be incorporated into your addiction treatment program if you have difficulty relaxing or letting go of troublesome thoughts. While it might be helpful for you, it’s important to remember that sound therapy alone can’t help you to overcome your addiction. It should only be used as part of a full package of care you’re receiving to assist you with your addiction issue. It should never replace other forms of therapy altogether. Feel free to contact us today for more information on sound therapy and where you can find it.