Therapeutic Listening Made Easy: How It Works, Who It Helps

Therapeutic ListeningIf you aren’t familiar with therapeutic listening and are merely judging this phrase at face value, you might be deceived into thinking of it as a salon add-on that enhances your full-body massage for an extra $10. But in reality, therapeutic listening is a bonafide field of therapy and it can play in integral role in the development of a number of essential skills in children.

Below I provide a history and explanation of therapeutic listening and how this form of therapy is much deeper and more complex than just “sound.” Parents who are keen to develop important motor skills should check out this kids motor skills and coordination course for ages 0-6.

What Is Therapeutic Listening?

The official definition as supplied by Vital Links (a developer of therapeutic listening techniques) is as follows:

Therapeutic listening is an evidence-based auditory intervention intended to support individuals who experience challenges with sensory processing dysfunction, listening, attention and communication.

But that doesn’t really tell us what we need to know. Layman’s terms are what we need. So, basically, therapeutic listening uses specifically designed music to produce certain effects in the listening skills and abilities of children. It’s as simple as that.

What It Addresses

The children who truly need this kind of therapy are those who lack the ability to respond, understand and process sounds. These “listening difficulties” are connected to a variety of other potential problems, as well: undeveloped motor skills, attention/perceptual deficits, learning disabilities, etc. (if motor skills are a primary concern, this course on training the athletic brain takes a unique approach through brain science and skill acquisition).

By studying listening, we have discovered that the ear is incredibly complex and that listening affects a number of functions in our bodies. It should be noted that “hearing” is not the same as “listening”; listening is the act of directing your attention or focus to certain sounds (hearing is the passive act of sounds entering your ear).

On a semi-related but totally awesome note (at least, if you’re into science), read this article that explains how our sense of balance is connected to the intricacies of our ears. Just goes to show you how extensively inter-connected our ears and bodies are.

How It Works: Part 1

Now, it’s about to get a little scientific here, but I’ll explain everything as clearly as I can.

  1. Arguably the most important thing accomplished by therapeutic listening is preparation. By stimulating certain muscles in the ears, it prepares the nervous system for a variety of responses.
  2. Initially, the music has one immediate effect: it causes the ear muscles to contract. When this happens, the ear and nervous system are prepared to parse sounds into meaning. In this way, therapeutic listening prepares a person to “learn.”
  3. Finally, the middle ear is where all the action takes place. When sound causes the middle ear to vibrate, there is a subsequent reaction in two key sensors in the inner ear: those that monitor movement and hearing. This might not sound very important, but when these two sensors are activated, the nervous system is brought to full attention and learning is fully facilitated.

Things are starting to get pretty intense so let’s take a breather. What we are going to look at next is how all of this comes together to actually do something. We know that sound stimulates the ear (duh), but how does therapeutic listening expedite the learning process?

Anyone can benefit from understanding more about how we grow and learn. This class on human development examines the psychology behind how we develop from birth to adulthood.

How It Works: Part 2

  1. The first thing you need to understand is that there are four primary nerves that are unique in that they connect the ear, the brain and our bodies. The nerve most people are familiar with, or at least have heard before, is the facial nerve.
  2. Now, a therapeutic listening engineer will design a type of music that stimulates the facial nerve. This automatically stimulates a connection between the ear and the face, with the brain acting as intermediary.
  3. Interestingly, there is a second nerve which follows the facial nerve; this controls the motor skills necessary to speak.
  4. At this point, the connection should be easy to see: having been stimulated by music, the muscles of the ear are directly connected to the muscles responsible for facial expressions and voice. This is important because we rely on both verbal and non-verbal expression to understand other people and to express ourselves.
  5. In this way, therapeutic listening connects the muscles that are responsible for hearing effectively and articulating one’s self; this is what allows us to communicate. By stimulating certain nerves, we can gently force connections between vital skills, such as the integral relationship between the ear and mouth muscles.

For a more hands-on approach to improving motor skills and inter-body coordination, here’s a sweet blog post that features 8 fine motor activities for kids.

The Actual Therapy

While the science part of therapeutic listening is fairly intense, the actual therapy is comparatively easy. An average course of therapy will consist of a sequence of CDs (or audio files) prescribed to suit an individual child’s needs. Other equipment includes therapy-specific headphones that tend to be rather heavy-duty (to block out all other sounds) and audio filters.

A standard course of therapy requires consistency, and the rules are semi-strict. For example, it would not be uncommon for a child to be required to listen to therapy twice a day for 30 minutes per session. It would also be common for there to be a minimum or maximum time requirement between sessions; at least five hours between sessions, or no more than eight hours between sessions, etc.

A key part of the therapy is altering the sounds. This is done electronically by using different kinds of audio filters. So while the child may listen to the same CDs or audio files, the frequencies will vary. It is not to a degree that taxes the ears, but just enough that it provides a realistic variance that better simulates the kind of reactions a child will experience in real life.

The Actual Listening

Listening is not something a parent can enforce, such as cleaning a bedroom, but it’s absolutely vital. I mentioned earlier the difference between listening and hearing. Therapeutic listening will be unsuccessful if the child simply wear the headphones, hears the sounds, but allows his or her mind to drift elsewhere. Children must take the therapy seriously and maintain as much listening concentration as they can muster for the duration of each session.

This course might be over the heads of extremely young children, but parents can definitely pass on some of its knowledge. This is a five-star Conscious Listening course that focuses on developing listening as a skill.

Who Should Consider Therapeutic Listening?

There are a wide, wide variety of people who should consider using therapeutic listening. Here is a sampling of people and struggles that may benefit from it. Many of the examples are surprisingly diverse:

  • Poor self-esteem and interpersonal relations.
  • Poor language skills.
  • Poor reading and spelling abilities.
  • Obviously, anyone suffering from general listening disabilities or difficulties.
  • Struggles with hearing, especially hearing in environments with many sounds coming from many sources, such as at a picnic or sporting event.
  • People who hear but do not understand; this is a classic example of the difference between hearing and listening. For more insights into the neurobiology behind learning issues, look into this course on how to teach children with learning disabilities.
  • When anxiety results from trying to listen.
  • When people are easily distracted or are unable to follow directions.
  • Lapses in memory, especially those that pertain to things people said or other auditory impulses (such as remembering the tunes or lyrics to songs).
  • When performance at school is completely nonsensical; excelling in some subjects (non-verbal) while bombing others (verbal).
  • Even people who suffer from disorganization, a lack of forethought or the inability to control their emotions of impulses can benefit from therapeutic listening.

Potential (And Specific) Benefits Of Therapeutic Listening

While some of these benefits answer the problems listed above, many are simply happy side-effects that anyone would be glad to possess:

  • Advanced motor skills (especially visual-motor, and both gross and fine)
  • Improved balance (as mentioned in the article at the beginning of this post) and coordination.
  • More precise timing, as it relates to motor skills and the ability to interact socially in a more fluid and uninterrupted manner.
  • Improved coordination with a decrease in hypersensitivity as it pertains to oral, tactile, etc.
  • Better regulated sleep cycle, hunger and thirst instincts, swallowing coordination, better regulated breathing patterns (which in turn lead to better respiration control and, surprisingly, stress control).
  • Better expression (verbal, non-verbal, emotional), better control of language, a increased ability to articulate and enunciate clearly. Give your kids practice with this blog post on social skills games for children of all ages.
  • More efficient and spontaneous communication.
  • Improved handwriting and over-all hand control

The best thing anyone can do is educate themselves on the complex relationships between environments and learning. Parents interested in the effects of parenting styles on children and how this ultimately affects their adult personalities should check out this positive parenting skills course and the outcomes of parenting styles.