Nysha Recent News

Does Sound Therapy Work?

February 26, 2017        

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

The Gazette Looks at the School of Alternative Medicine—and the Big Questions Beneath

“One of my clients, a girl with Down syndrome, was not able to read.  Mom took her for this therapy and she started reading,” read the internal Hamaspik e-mail.

“I also personally know of a close family member with ADD who was helped tremendously by doing this sound therapy… Would you write about it?”

That’s how sound therapy was brought to the attention of the Gazette by a Hamaspik Medicaid Service Coordinator (MSC)—and as such, the Gazette did some research into the basic facts into this school of alternative medicine.

But first, a preface.

There are many types, philosophies, schools and treatments of alternative medicine—but they all have several general definitions in common:

  1. They are not (at least not yet) scientifically proven to work.

  2. They are largely considered by mainstream medicine to not work.

  3. Practitioners tend to “conspiracy-theorize” that mainstream medicine doesn’t want the public to know that they work.

  4. They have many adherents, often friends and relatives, who testify that they work.

  5. They work for those who believe they work (and not for those who don’t).

Among these are acupuncture, aromatherapy, chiropractic… and sound therapy.

What exactly is sound therapy?

Sound therapy is an alternative school of medicine that believes that problems in the ear affect quite a few other problems than hearing, and that by treating the ear, quite a few other problems can be solved, too.

According to sound therapy, the ear is the body’s primary sensory organ.  Sound therapy believes the ear is critical not just for hearing, but for the brain’s overall ability to process information (primarily sound), to learn, and even to maintain body balance and posture. 

In short, sound therapy is supposed to treat something called auditory processing disorder (APD), a legitimate medical diagnosis which has standard mainstream treatments other than sound therapy.  (Note: “Sound therapy” can also refer to those mainstream APD treatments, which are not the subject of this article.)

Critically, sound therapy has a different view than mainstream medicine of what the ear (and its several parts) actually does—and hence, approaches the ear differently, and uses a wide range of techniques to correct what it sees as problems resulting from defects in the ear system.

Sound therapy is referred to by mainstream medicine as auditory integration training (AIT).

Sound therapy was invented in the 1950s by French physician Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis (1920-2001), an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor). 

After first working with opera singers and their hearing and voice problems, Dr. Tomatis came to believe that problems in the ear, even in utero, led to voice and communication problems later in life.  He also came to believe that, with various treatments and devices he invented, patients could be treated for a range of hearing and speech problems, and even for seemingly unrelated problems like schizophrenia and autism.

Dr. Tomatis is widely considered the father of AIT. 

However, the field of AIT evolved during and after his lifetime, with several distinct AIT schools and treatment disciplines (and sub-disciplines) now in existence.  These include:

  • The Tomatis method

  • The Berard method

  • The Clark method

  • Digital Auditory Aerobics (DAA)

  • EnListen

  • Earobics

  • Human BioAcoustics

  • REI

  • The Solisten Training Program

  • Tree of Sound Enhancement Therapy

  • The Fast ForWord Series

Auditory integration training is also part of an increasingly popular field of alternative therapies known as “brain training.”  The concept of AIT is that auditory processing issues stem from oversensitivity or under-sensitivity to sound (or certain sound frequencies), which then interferes with learning. 

In short, AIT consists of patients listening to sessions of specific sounds tailored for their specific problems.  The therapy often consists of ten 30-minute listening sessions, two per day.

Does sound therapy work?

Ah, that’s the big question.  And the answer—as is the case with pretty much every form of alternative medicine—depends on who you ask.

But for better or worse, the consensus of the medical establishment to this day is that there is no scientific proof that AIT works.

A brief inquiry for available lay resources at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one of the 27 divisions of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), found that the NIDCD had no official information on AIT.

For its part, the private-sector American Speech-Hearing-Language Association (ASHA), the country’s largest group of trained mainstream professionals in the specialty, typically does not take positions on alternative treatment methods, techniques and programs.

In 2004, however, ASHA made an exception with regards to AIT, issuing a cautious official position:

“AIT has not met scientific standards for efficacy that would justify its practice by audiologists and speech-language pathologists.  However, well-designed, institutionally approved, research protocols designed to assess the efficacy of AIT are encouraged.  It is recommended that this position be reexamined should scientific, controlled studies supporting AIT’s effectiveness and safety become available.”

Later, in 2011, a systematic review related to autism and spoken language from the ASHA evidence maps concluded that “In the absence of evidence, the treatment [i.e., auditory integration therapy (AIT) and other sound therapies] must be considered experimental and care must be taken not to risk hearing loss.”  (Risk of hearing loss is due to the fact that AIT sounds are played to patients at volumes considered to be unsafe by mainstream hearing medicine.)

The review also warned parents about AIT’s costs, and urged that any future research into the scientific validity of AIT as a treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) “build on existing evidence and provide high level evidence about whether this treatment is effective.”

Speaking of scientific validity, it is worth noting that Dr. Tomatis himself was banned for life from the French Medical Council in 1977 and convicted in 1990 of “illegal practice of medicine.”

Additionally, a common device used in sound therapy in France, the Audiokinetron, is banned from U.S. usage by the FDA as a medical treatment device.  (However, it, or equivalent device, is legally permissible for usage as an educational treatment device.)

So, back to the big question: does sound therapy work?

Fact 1: There’s no shortage of honest, positive testimony by patients and their parents alike that sound therapy works.

Fact 2: Modern mainstream medicine does not consider it scientifically proven, and therefore does not approve of sound therapy.

Now the question is two-fold: “If it doesn’t work, then why did my friend/sister/brother/aunt/cousin/co-worker say that it does?  And if it does work, why does mainstream medicine say that it doesn’t?”

That question takes us right back to the bigger issue of mainstream vs. alternative medicine as laid out at the start of this article—a subject beyond the focus of this article.

In the meantime, facts are facts.

On the one hand, the Gazette does not want to scare anyone away from AIT, especially if the fact is that they (or people they trust and respect) report positive real results.

On the other hand, the fact is that AIT has not been scientifically proven in proper clinical trials to work.

“So what do I do?”

Well, other than your homework, what to do is up to you.

Facts are facts...