Clinical depression with its symptoms of despair, guilt, exhaustion, pain and anxiety is a debilitating condition. Severe sufferers struggle with a reason for living and some attempt suicide. Rising rates of teen suicide raises the alarm that depression is out of control and growing rapidly. It has been predicted by the World Health Organisation that by 2020 depression will be a greater threat to human health than heart disease or cancer.
Socially, this can be seen as a reaction to the current state of the world, uncertainty or pressure to perform. At a biochemical level it can be seen as an environmental and chemical crisis, causing an imbalance in brain chemistry. The effectiveness of antidepressant drugs indicates that neurochemistry is a major causal factor.
Chemistry can be changed through psychological attitude, by drug treatment, or by a gentle vibrational stimulation, to bring about balance, such as that delivered in sound therapy.
The Bridge of Sound
Can a balance in the brain be achieved naturally through sound? The brain of a depressed person is much less active than normal and this can be seen on an MRI. There is less processing than there needs to be for healthy functioning.
This would account for the feelings of lethargy, slowness and lack of excitement a depressed person feels. The part of the cortex associated with conscious emotion is over active, while the part concerned with generating action is under active. This results in the depressed person feeling a lack of motivation or inspiration to do anything, while being swamped with emotion.
It is an interesting fact that when asked to think of something sad, women generate more activity in their emotional brains than men do. This increased power of emotional imagination may make women more easily prone to depression than men.
Dopamine, an essential neurotransmitter is necessary for physical motivation and the ability to act. A lack of dopamine is seen in Parkinson's patients and accounts for their tremor and their inability to generate the desired physical activities. Sound Therapy has been found to motivate people into more activity, and has assisted people with both depression and Parkinson's , so it is possible that it helps to stimulate dopamine production. Excess dopamine on the other hand is found in hallucinogenic cases and has been implicated in Schizophrenia. Hallucinogenic drugs are thought to work by stimulating the dopamine system. There are also reports of sound Therapy helping people with schizophrenia, so it may also help regulate excess levels of dopamine and keep the right balance in the brain.
Another very important neurotransmitter is Serotonin, responsible for feelings of happiness and well being. When we look at the effects of serotonin it looks like a list of reported sound therapy benefits. Listeners report an increase of good feeling, serenity and optimism. We also know that sound therapy affects sleep. A considerable number of people have reported a decrease in chronic pain and high blood pressure. Some have reported weight loss due to reduced appetite. All this implies that sound therapy may be improving the production or absorption of serotonin. It could therefore be considered as an alternative to Prozac, which acts by enhancing serotonin levels.
In his book Cultivating a Daily Meditation, The Dalai Lama has written:
In this modern age, Western Science has much knowledge about matter, but it seems very limited concerning consciousness. Without deep knowledge of consciousness the usefulness of even full knowledge of matter is questionable.
Could it be that sound brings us to a more aware state of ourselves by holding our attention? Richard Davidson and a team of researchers found for the first time, that a short program in "mindfulness meditation" produced lasting positive changes in both the brain and the function of the immune system. The findings confirmed the researchers' assumption: the meditation group showed an increase of activation in the left side part of the frontal region. This suggests that the meditation itself produced more activity in this region of the brain. This activity is associated with lower anxiety and a more positive emotional state.
The right brain is typically more involved with negative emotions and fearful, mournful or pessimistic feelings. People who experience severe left brain strokes often react as if they have undergone a tragedy, even if they suffer mild disabilities as a result. In contrast, those that have their right brain affected by a stroke sometimes seem unaffected emotionally and remain cheerful despite serious disabling effects. Sound therapy may be achieving the same effect increasing the dominance of left brain function and taking precedence over the parts linked to negative emotions.
The Future of Sound Therapy?
Music is a miniature of the harmony of the whole universe, for the harmony of the universe is life itself, and man, being a miniature of the universe, shows harmonious and inharmonious chords in his pulsation, in the beat of his heart, in his vibration, rhythm and tone. His health or illness, his joy or discomfort, all show the music or lack of music in his life. Azrat Inayat Khan, Mysticism of Sound and Music, 1996.
People accept the calming or stimulating effects of sound and it has been absorbed in our psyche. Could we make the leap of imagining that carefully directed tones, used like lasers, forming deep contact with the patient could be used as preparation for medical treatment, surgical operations, and fine tuning or balancing of the total organism - physically, emotionally and mentally? All that the patient would need to do is simply listen.