Sound Healing for Addiction and Mental Health Recovery
Sound Healing for Addiction and Mental Health Recovery
by Kayla Gill on September 30, 2021
In order to heal the mind, it’s important to begin by healing the body. With this in mind, there’s great value in treatment that engages all five senses. Sound healing is one way to ground yourself during both physical and emotional recovery.
Music locates listeners in an emotional environment. It’s easy to see this in modern cinema: film scores signal the emotional undertones of the plot. Although research into sound healing is relatively new, this time-honored modality has both artistic and therapeutic applications. Experts say, “Since ancient times, music has been recognized for its therapeutic value1. Greek physicians used flutes, lyres, and zitters to heal their patients. They used vibration to aid in digestion, treat mental disturbance, and induce sleep. Aristotle (323–373 BCE), in his famous book De Anima, wrote that flute music could arouse strong emotions and purify the soul. Ancient Egyptians describe musical incantations for healing the sick.”
Even in the context of rehab, sound healing may refer to a number of specific therapies. For example, some facilities offer gong baths, while others offer music therapy. In any form, sound therapy is a holistic practice that invites clients to consider their emotions from a new perspective.
Although this practice is ancient, there is some question as to which cultures originally developed the types of sound healing we use today. Because it can induce a meditative state, some associate sound resonance therapy with spiritual healing2. Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, an oncologist, believes that this therapy can restore balance “on the physiological as well as the psychospiritual level.” However, it is not necessarily a spiritual practice, and may be beneficial to clients who prefer a secular approach to recovery. This type of therapy has many benefits, and may take a number of different forms.
Sound baths are arguably the most popular form of sound therapy3 in use today. They are usually a communal experience, in which “a group of people gather, often while lying on a mat, to listen to sounds produced through various instruments.” The community aspect of this modality is an important—although not absolutely necessary—component of sound healing. Clients may find that just sharing physical space with each other, without direct interaction, helps them feel connected to the group. After the session, participants may be able to share their thoughts and reactions with one another. In the context of recovery, this can help you practice articulating your emotions and connecting with the people around you.
During sound baths, healers use “the vibrations of the human voice as well as objects that resonate — tuning forks, gongs, Tibetan singing bowls — to go beyond relaxation and stimulate healing.” These sessions combine the performance of the facilitator with the meditation of the participants. Other sound healing modalities invite you to be more active throughout the process.
Music therapy invites clients to make music of their own. Like some sound baths, this can be a communal experience, letting you practice both self-expression and interpersonal skills and self expression. Whitney Armistead, Director of Hospitality at All Points North Lodge, says “We have a grand piano in our main living room, which is great for clients who are using music therapy. It’s a really great way for them to express themselves and connect with others.”
Music therapy4 can be extremely effective in improving mental health; however, it’s important to combine these holistic modalities with well-researched Western techniques. It can be an effective tool for people healing from addiction, mental illness, and physical injuries. This modality reduces stress, promotes relaxation, and has even “been shown to be more effective than prescription drugs in reducing anxiety levels before surgery. A study published in 2017 found that a 30-minute music therapy session combined with traditional care after spinal surgery reduced pain.”
Although sound therapy is an ancient technique, research is still required regarding its efficacy in treating specific diagnoses, including substance use disorders. As its popularity grows, we can hope to see more quantitative data about the efficacy of these techniques.
Some studies have used electroencephalograms (EEGs) to measure electrical activity in the brain during sound healing sessions. One group of researchers found that different sound frequencies “were associated with various energy levels and relaxation states.”5 Another study, which examined the effects of singing bowls, “discovered a distinct change in delta brain waves—the brainwave state associated with deepest relaxation.” Based on this information, experts hypothesize that sound therapy may have a direct impact on brain activity.
The physical effects of this technique are particularly interesting. Sound therapy has been shown to help reduce physical pain6. This may be important for clients undergoing medical detox, people whose substance misuse was influenced by other medical conditions, and those in recovery from opioid addiction.
This modality also promotes feelings of spiritual well-being7. Because it is not necessarily tied to a particular religion, this may be especially helpful for rehab clients who are interested in spirituality without ascribing to a particular faith. Whether or not you consider yourself a religious person, many people find it beneficial to think of addiction recovery as the process of healing the mind, body, and spirit.
Although there’s little data about the relationship between sound therapy and the treatment of substance use disorders, this practice has a positive effect on overall wellness. Specifically, it can promote mindfulness and a sense of calm. It may be extremely helpful for those who find meaning in meditation and other spiritual practices.
It’s important that sound healing be used in combination with other modalities. Simply enrolling in music lessons, or going to a weekly gong bath, is not likely to heal a serious substance use disorder. However, it is a powerful way to supplement talk therapy, group therapy, and medical care. Like any other experiential therapy, sound healing engages different parts of your brain, and so lets you consider your emotions from a new perspective.
The growing popularity of sound therapy is likely related to the current cultural focus on mindfulness. As trendy as they might sound, mindfulness techniques—including sound healing—are extremely powerful. These strategies can be helpful from people with all walks of life, whether or not they have mental health diagnoses such as substance use disorders.
Body awareness is one essential component of any mindfulness practice. By engaging the five senses, you can center yourself in your body and connect with your physical experience of your own emotions. Focusing on sound is one way to ground yourself in the present moment, accept the present moment, and decide how you’d like to move forward.
If you’re ready to take the first step on your journey towards healing, browse our list of luxury rehab facilities to see therapies offered, take a virtual tour, and more.
Reviewed by Lisa Misquith