The Psychology of Hearing

By Rafaele Joudry

The role of psychology in our hearing and the psychological implications of the whole hearing process have been explored in depth by the French ear doctor, Alfred Tomatis, over the past fifty years. Tomatis distinguished between hearing as a passive process and listening as a conscious, volitional act. We are capable of tuning out our listening or of focusing it on a subject that interests us. The ear is directed by the mind, and without this direction it does not function.

Both the physical and psychological aspects of hearing begin earlier than we may think.
Hearing is our means of verbal communication and thus it is the foundation upon which human relationships are built. The first of these relationships is always the relationship with the mother, which begins in the womb. Dr Alfred Tomatis was one of the first to investigate the auditory environment of the foetus. His theory was that the auditory relationship between baby and mother lays the foundation for all our other relationships and is therefore the crucial point of intervention to bring about change in the person’s psychological response to sound and language.

Dr Tomatis was one of the first to postulate that the foetus hears in the womb.
He was fascinated by an observation of Negus, author of The Mechanisms of the Larynx, that if the eggs of songbirds are hatched under silent foster mothers they produce songless young. Tomatis surmised that the audio-phonitary conditioning which occurs in the womb prepares the ability to speak. Later Konrad Lorenz, Nobel Prize winner 1973, spoke and sang to duck eggs in an incubator and so proved that ducklings became accustomed to his voice in the egg and responded to it after hatching. Tomatis’s belief that this also applied to humans was confirmed by Andre Thomas who did experiments where a baby less than ten days old responded to the mother’s voice by falling in her direction. Is 1962 Dr Lee Salk proved that the foetus is aware of the mother’s heartbeat. Tomatis, however, was the first to assert that the foetus hears and acclimatises to the mother’s voice in the womb. He takes this further and says that the foetus draws all of its emotional material from its mother’s voice.

Dr Tomatis speaks of ‘the opening of the ear’, an occurrence which happens on the combined physical and psychological levels. It can be gradual or sudden, dramatic or almost imperceptible. It means that the ear has regained its natural, full responsiveness to sound. The degree of noticeable effect depends on the degree to which the ear was closed off to sound. It also means that the psyche has adjusted and opened its receptivity to sound and that early psycho-accoustic traumas have been released.

One of the pre-requisites to the ear opening is the rehabilitation of the middle ear muscles. Another is sometimes a psychological shift which allows sound to impact the psyche on a deeper level. Another component can be the rearranging of the route by which sound is conveyed to the auditory cortex so that there is a direct and efficient relationship between ear and brain.

These changes can be effected by the Sound Therapy listening program which Tomatis developed and which is now available as a self help program on a portable high quality music player.

The effect, once the ear has opened is that the brain is receptive to the re-charging effect of high frequency sounds. At this point, listening to Sound Therapy music recorded with Tomatis’ Electronic Ear filtering method will increase the energy levels of the listener as well as helping in many cases to resolve deep, psychological blocks. Tomatis states that the original functions of the ear in our evolution were to maintain balance and to provide the brain with energy. Language is a secondary and later function in our evolution. The larynx is part of the breathing system and the mouth, lips and palate are part of the digestive system, also put into the service of speech and language.

The following is a quotation from the book Sound Therapy: Music to Recharge Your Brain by Patricia Joudry and Rafaele Joudry.

“Dr. Sarkissof, a psychoanalyst, speaking at the International Congress of the SECRAP in 1972, describes certain patients whom he had agreed to analyse, rather reluctantly, not holding a great deal of hope for their cure. He states: “The results of these analyses confirmed my doubts as to the possibility of completely curing these patients. The more time passed the more I doubted that I could succeed in obtaining anything more than an improvement of their condition — I decided to let them undergo treatment with the Tomatis apparatus. Not only did they accept willingly, but they accepted with gratitude and high hopes, and I realised, although they had not spoken of it, that all of them were fully aware that treatment by psychoanalysis alone could not completely cure them. The material they offered at the sessions then changed radically. In each of them the Tomatis apparatus brought to light fantasies of a return to the mother’s breast and to birth, and the analysis of these fantasies was accompanied by a clearly visible transformation of their entire personality. All these patients shared a core of unconscious autism: their emotional contacts were without warmth and life, their analyses went round in circles without uncovering any particular cause of resistance, which meant a basic difficulty in communication. Sound Therapy rapidly reduced this core of autism. In the space of a few months, the autism gave way to a joyful, outgoing self-awareness, and their co-operation in the analysis became fruitful. My personal reservations regarding these patients gave way to great optimism as to their ability to get well completely. One of the patients expressed his astonishment at noting that he had suddenly become capable of making great progress, readily and without anxiety, while he remembered that before the treatment, the efforts demanded of him in psychoanalysis seemed immense and completely out of proportion to the slight progress he made. He considered the Tomatis treatment a very valuable short cut, which made him feel that he was making a game of his difficulties.”

Sonic Birth
It has been said that we are all homesick for the womb. In the days just after birth the infant’s ear is still filled with liquid, so it continues to hear through a liquidian milieu. When the ear drains, it has to adjust to hearing through air, and this is when birth becomes realised on the auditory plane. The filtered sounds of Sound Therapy imitate the uterine auditory environment so that the listener re experiences the birth through the auditory sense. Sometimes this is accompanied by visions or memories of the birth or of being at the mother’s breast. Sonic birth is the reliving of the birth experience and transition into the world through sound.

Sound Therapy and Autism
Tomatis describes autism as an animal state in which the person’s deep sorrow imprisons them in darkness, removed from the world of human emotions. Yet, he says, just a glimmer of awareness could reanimate them. Tomatis used his method in the clinical treatment of autistic children over some years. He observed that in the early stages of Sound Therapy the child may become quite distant and indifferent, but there would be a stage where he comes to accept his mother’s voice and at that point he would often burst into a flood of tears. After that there was usually a great rapprochement with the mother, an increase in language and a willingness to risk emotional expression.

Treating the mother
Tomatis always treated the mother as well as the child. He found that by connecting the mother to the same wavelength as the child Sound Therapy made it easier for the two to communicate. This helped to remove blocks, resentments and misunderstandings that may have existed between the mother and child. This was helpful in treating any patient, but was particular relevant when dealing with autism. A highly sensitive being, the autistic child needs to feel total acceptance before it will emerge from psychic isolation. The attunement with the mother introduced by Sound Therapy helps to make this possible.

Involving the father
Tomatis believes that the father represents the experience of ‘other’, the first experience of reaching beyond the inner circle of self and mother from which the child takes its safety. The father also represents the introduction of language and the articulation of the self as a separate entity in the world. The involvement of the father in Sound Therapy therefore allows for this next step in our early development to be re-experienced in more positive circumstances so we can take new stock of our first creation of ourselves as autonomous and separate beings.
In some instances Sound Therapy could be beneficially applied to adoption. Tomatis recommends that when the birth mother is not available for the mother’s voice technique, the adoptive mother’s voice can be used with success, if the adoptive mother is in fact capable of loving the child.

A replication of involving the mother and father in treatment is possible with the special affirmation tapes which are now part of the portable program. Powerful affirmations with a female or male voice, filtered using the Electronic Ear can be used in a way that reprograms the listener’s original self concept and mother-self paradigms. Likewise, the father’s voice tape can be used to assist in recreating the experience of first reaching out to the ‘other’ in a linguistic sense.

To begin with, a new listener must start with the basic music tapes to acclimatise the ear to the filtering. Filtering is always introduced gradually because if the filtered sounds were introduced too suddenly this could produce a refusal to accept such a sudden shift into another world. The unaccustomed ear may find the sounds grating or painful. The listener musts be gently led into the new world at a pace that the psyche can easily handle.

The auditory pre-birth experience
Once the listener’s ear has opened, the listener is in a receptive psychological state similar to the state of the infant. The recreation of the auditory experience of embryonic life enables the listener to connect with a past distant enough to be untouched by any negative experience. It is as if all obstacles which locked her in a painful situation were finally removed. Going back to this pre-pain time allows for a rebuilding of self, beliefs and behaviours, perhaps now with the benefit of time, and the therapist’s guidance to start creating a fresher and more functional being.

Emotional acoustic blocks may be caused by many events such as the lack or prolonged absence of a mother, emotional indifference or inadequacy on her part, the hospitalisation of the baby at the breast, or the isolation of a premature baby kept in an incubator. Where there has been a traumatic childbirth it may be useful to relive the experience after creating more favourable conditions than existed the first time.

Author and speaker Rafaele Joudry (BSW, MSc Psych) was raised in the fifties by a radical mother who believed in unconditional love, extended breast feeding and respect and nurturance for the child: many of the child raising ideas that have become a lot more accepted today. Rafaele and her mother popularised the work of Dr Tomatis with their books and portable audio program. Rafaele now lectures to many professional groups on the use of the method in Australia. Her second book, Triumph Over Tinnitus includes a variety of treatments both wholistic and conventional, physical and psychological to assist with the troubling condition of ringing in the ears. Her most recent book, Why Aren’t I Learning? : Listening is the Key to Overcoming Learning Difficulties, underscores the importance of early intervention and sensory integration for children experiencing learning, sensory and psychological problems.

To arrange for a complimentary audio-neural assessment, or for any queries, please call head office on 1300 55 77 96.

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