Sound therapy

Sound therapy
Sound therapy

Sound therapy refers to a range of therapies in which sound is used to treat physical and mental conditions. One of these therapies is music therapy, which can involve a person listening to music for conditions such as stress and muscle tension.

Music is one component of this therapy. Others use sound wave vibrations to treat physical and mental conditions. In general, this therapy is based on the theory that all of life vibrates, including people’s bodies. When a person’s healthy resonant frequency is out of balance, physical and emotional health is affected.

Treatment by sound waves is believed to restore that healthy balance to the body. Healing is done by transmitting beneficial sound to the affected area. The healing sound may be produced by a voice or an instrument such as electronic equipment, chanting bowls, or tuning forks.


Indigenous societies around the world have traditionally used sound in healing ceremonies, including drumming, hand-clapping, singing, dancing, and pulsating. The broad spectrum of sound therapy includes chanting, an activity long connected to healing and religion, and sounds of nature.

Different sounds have elicited a variety of emotional responses and altered mental and physical states in people. One recent brain-imaging study found that spine-tingling music “lights up” the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food, sex, and certain types of drugs.

For example, the chimes of a church bell pealed for such happy occasions as weddings and harvest festivals, and tolled slowly to announce a death.

The connection between sound and healing was chronicled in 1896 when American physicians discovered that certain types of music improved thought processes and spurred blood flow. More advances in sound therapy came after World War II. Music therapy began in the 1940s, when it was used as part of rehabilitation treatment for soldiers.

During the 1950s and 1960s, sound wave therapy developed in Europe. The British osteopath Sir Peter Guy Manners developed a machine that treated patients with healing vibrations.

The machine is placed on the area to be treated and a frequency is set to match the cells of a healthy body. Advocates believe that the treatment makes the body’s cells vibrate at a healthy resonance.

By the 1990s, Manners had developed a computerized system with about 800 frequencies used to treat a range of conditions. Similar therapies are also known by names such as bioresonance and vibrational therapy. This therapy is used to treat such conditions as cancer.

After Manners developed his therapy, two ear specialists in France developed therapies that focus on listening. Dr. Alfred Tomatis’method and Dr. Guy Berard’s auditory integration training involve the patient listening to sounds through headphones. Currently, the Tomatis method is used to treat conditions ranging from learning disabilities to anxiety in both children and adults.

From the 1960s on, interest in alternative medicine and New Age healing has led to a wide variety of sound healing therapies.

These range from the ancient practice of chanting and the use of singing bowls to vibroacoustic furniture. A person sits or lies on a chair or bed and music is directed into the body. Benefits are said to include lowered blood pressure.


Sound therapy focuses on balancing energy to treat a condition. Advocates maintain that sound therapy is effective in treating such conditions as stress, anxiety, high blood pressure, depression, and autism.

Chanting and overtone chanting are used in therapy with Alzheimer’s patients. This form of sound therapy is said to help with memory function. Some researchers think that music memories may outlast some other types of memories because music involves many parts of the brain.

A newer form of sound therapy that is used with Alzheimer’s patients is called multisensory or Snoezelen therapy. The name “Snoezelen” comes from two Dutch words that mean “to sniff” and “to doze.” It was originally developed to treat disabled children by stimulating all the senses.

Snoezelen therapy takes place in specially constructed rooms in which patients can, for example, produce music simply by walking in front of a sound beam. The sound beam, which looks like a microphone, “translates” the patient’s movements into music.

Other Snoezelen devices include fiber-optic cables that glow when patients wrap them around their bodies, and a chair that vibrates as it plays music through internal speakers. In this way, even deaf patients can “feel” the music as it plays. Snoezelen therapy has been found to reduce pain in Alzheimer’s patients without the need for extra medication.

Physical conditions treated by sound therapy include pain during labor, muscle and joint pain like arthritis, back pain, sports injuries, soft tissue damage, and cancer.

The Tomatis method is used for conditions including dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Down syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, autism, depression, and behavioral problems.

The method, also known as listening therapy, is used to help older people with coordination and motor problems. Furthermore, performers take the therapy to refine their skills.


The spectrum of sound therapy is so broad that a person has many choices about the type of treatment and its cost. Some therapies can be done at home; others require a practitioner or therapist to perform the therapy or to provide initial instruction.

As of 2002, most health plans did not cover the cost of any form of sound therapy, including music therapy. However, some sound therapies may be part of integrative treatment for a condition.

Chanting and toning

Chanting and toning are among the complementary therapies offered through the integrative medicine program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. The program, which opened in April 1999, is one example of how the traditional medical community is incorporating alternative therapies into treatment.

People learn to reach a meditative state by producing a “pure” sound such as a drawn-out vowel. The chanting is said to produce a state of well-being in mind and body.

The cost of therapy will vary since a person could take a class or workshop or opt for longer therapy. Treatment could involve weekly hour-long sessions over a period of several months.

Toning refers to using the voice to let out pain or stress. Sound healers point out that people do this naturally when they cry out or sigh. In toning therapy, a healer will help the patient learn healing sounds.

Overtoning involves the therapist using his or her voice to assess a client’s condition from the feet to the head. The therapist then treats the person by projecting healing sounds or “overtones.”

Sounding, also known as toning, strives to improve vocal and listening abilities for emotional release and better communication. It was developed by Don Campbell, who established the Institute for Music, Health, and Education in Boulder, Colorado, in 1988. The discipline is being used in hospitals, schools, and educational centers to release stress. Toning or sounding is the way to massage the body from the inside out.

The Tomatis method

The Tomatis method involves the client using special headphones with bone and air conduction to listen to electronically recorded music frequencies. These are believed to open the brain to greater frequencies of sound. As of 2002, there were more than 250 Tomatis centers located around the world.

Furthermore, the Mozart Center in northern California began offering home treatment in the late 1990s. Treatment for the three-phase program cost $3,210 in mid-2000. Therapy lasted about three months and started with initial testing and instruction about how to use equipment.

The client used the equipment for two hours per day for 15 days. A diary was kept during that time, and a practitioner made weekly check-up calls. A month after therapy started, the practitioner returned to the home and reinstalled the equipment.

The two-hour daily therapy continued for 10 days, along with the diary entries. The third phase of therapy continued six weeks later with 10 days of therapy and diary-keeping.

Vibrational therapy

Sound therapies like cymatics have been compared to acupressure. An instrument is placed on a point of the body and beneficial sound is directed at that point. The sound directed through the skin is believed to establish healthy resonance in unhealthy tissue.

Other forms of sound therapy

The spectrum of sound therapy includes such other treatments as:
  • Audiotapes with special frequencies or music are designed for conditions ranging from AIDS to weight problems. Costs will vary. Some recordings are said to target both the emotional and physical aspects of these conditions.
  • Tuning forks are used to give the person resonance. This is said to help the person relax and give balance. Costs vary.
  • Hemi-sync therapy involves listening to synthesized sounds to balance both hemispheres of the brain. This is said to produce an altered state of consciousness.
  • Adaptation of age-old instruments such as the Tibetan singing bowls. Sound from these bowls can be used in conjunction with chanting or meditation. Tibetan monks used bronze bowls.


Pre-treatment preparation varies with the type of therapy to be undertaken. Some therapies such as the Tomatis method require an assessment and then treatment is administered.

Other therapies can be taught by therapists and done at home. Some therapies require little or no training. Equipment such as audiotapes and chanting bowls can be purchased and used with minimal instruction.

Furthermore, organizations like the Sound Healers Association can provide information about training in other types of sound therapy. In addition, some companies sell equipment such as bioresonance machines.


Although treatments like the Tomatis method and cymatics require training in those therapies, there are no certification programs for practitioners of other therapies.

While there is no danger from such therapies as chanting, other forms of sound therapy should not be undertaken until a doctor or health practitioner is consulted. People with pacemakers should not do cymatics.

Side effects

Sound therapy has produced no known side effects or complications.

Research and general acceptance

Sound therapy is so diverse that the amount of research and general acceptance in the United States is varied. Music therapy has been accepted within the traditional medical community.

Other therapies such as chanting and toning have been integrated into traditional treatment of cancer. Furthermore, some studies indicated that auditory integration training and the Tomatis method could be used for behavioral problems.

Much of the medical community remains dubious about the healing effects of treating patients’ unhealthy cells with sound waves. Although a clinic or center may provide testimonials from cured patients, there has been no scientific research to prove this.

While the traditional medical community remains skeptical about some aspects of sound therapy, treatment has been undertaken by people around the world. Therapies are available in areas including North America, Europe, and Japan.