The Neuroscience Of Sound Healing

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Sound Healing has been used for thousands of years by healers from cultures all around the globe. These traditional cultures acknowledged the power of sound, yet they didn’t know why it worked. They just knew that it did. Only in the past 70 years have we begun to understand the science behind why sound is such a powerful medical tool. 

Sound waves have been studied since they were first used with medical applications by the Fry Brothers in the 50s. They have been used for imaging, diagnosis, treatment of tumors, and neurological disorders. 

Ever heard horror stories of electroshock therapy used to fry the frontal cortex of mental health patients? The concept there was that electrical pulses could influence the neurochemistry of the brain. Though much of the initial work with this treatment was incredibly harmful to its’ subjects, we have since come a long way from those disastrous experiments. Recent studies have proven that using waves to influence brain chemistry is in fact a viable treatment option for a wide array of mental health issues.

The human mind works by sending electric pulses (waves) from one neuron to another. This is the basis of why sound healing works to treat mental disorders. Certain sound waves match corresponding brain waves. Altering these brain waves alters a person’s state of mind. For example, playing frequencies that promote Delta brain waves will help treat insomnia by putting the person’s mind into a state of deep sleep. All of that from sound!

This is the concept that scientists were beginning to get at by using electroshock therapy on patients in asylums throughout the mid-20th century. At the time, the knowledge of how to influence brain waves was very minimal. So, doctors used shocks of electricity to change the brain wave patterns that were causing mental illness. This was unsuccessful, but we now know that sound is the best, and safest, tool to accomplish that goal.

In recent years, MR guided focused ultrasound (MRgFUS) has been used to treat everything from tumors to epilepsy. Perhaps most promising is the use of this sound technology to help treat those with chronic seizures and tremors. “Dr. G. Rees Cosgrove, Director of Epilepsy and Functional Neurosurgery at the Brigham, is using MR-guided focused ultrasound to treat patients with essential tremor, a movement disorder that frequently causes uncontrollable shaking of the hands and forearms. This treatment is delivered without anesthesia, and it does not require any incision in the skull or brain.” Highly esteemed medical treatment centers, like Brigham, are using sound to help cure previously hard-to-treat diseases.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the possibilities in the realm of sound healing. The research has just begun, and though already making a splash, it has a long way to go. In the coming years, expect to see new applications of sound therapy used as a safe treatment option for mental health issues like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more!

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