Harnessing the Power of Sound and Movement in Therapy

For decades, rehabilitation professionals have reported success in supporting clients by incorporating movement as a primary therapeutic modality. Examples include physical therapists and occupational therapists, dance and yoga practitioners, and kinesiologiststo name a few.

Today, awareness continues to grow on the role that sound—and, specifically, music—can play in enhancing client outcomes when paired with movement. Here’s how this works and how to effectively integrate this approach to complement your practice.

The Science of Sound and Movement

Neuroscience validates the need to root clinical decision-making in neurobiology and to integrate multiple frames of reference to achieve client outcomes. This acknowledges the foundational role of our senses by combining “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches to promote neural processing and development of new adaptive capacities.

Research backs this practice. A growing body of evidence supports the use of sound as therapy for all ages and varying conditions, as well as for the use of music and movement together to promote brain change and healing. In recent years, studies have been published examining the efficacy of interventions that include music in enhancing occupation-based outcomes for children with autism; as promising rehabilitation strategies for people with dementia, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis; and for reducing anxiety in a range of groups.1-3

Incorporating sound and movement promotes the blending of neuroscience with occupation and daily living. These sensory supports are not only relevant to building function and capacity for clients, but can infuse the added support of nurture and joy into a client’s experience.

What Integration Can Look Like

Sound and movement processing can play a central role in effective therapy. Therapists can integrate this into client sessions in a variety of ways. This could include:

  • Real-life activity, such as drumming, dancing, or yoga
  • Sound enhancements, also known as sonification, such as putting bells on a shoe, using “swooshy” fabric, or digitally manipulating or producing sound during virtual reality games to create a more life-like experience
  • Adding environmental sounds as background to achieve a desired response, such as a white-noise machine or metronome

Another method relies on the use of listening therapy programs that use specially treated music and movement designed to support brain integration and skill building. Also known as auditory training or sound therapy, this therapeutic approach focuses on the sense of hearing to promote overall well-being and improve various aspects of cognitive and sensory processing. It involves the intentional exposure to specific sounds and frequencies in order to stimulate and enhance auditory processing abilities.

The concept behind listening therapy is based on the understanding that our auditory system plays a crucial role in how we perceive and interact with the world. By engaging in targeted listening exercises, clients can potentially retrain and optimize their auditory pathways, leading to improvements in areas such as attention, concentration, language and communication skills, sensory integration, and emotional regulation. By harnessing the power of sound and intentional listening, listening therapies can provide a valuable avenue for exploration and growth for clients seeking support for developmental challenges, age-related conditions, brain injury, anxiety or cognitive enhancement; for athletes simply hoping to optimize their skills; and for many other use cases.

Case Example: Child with Autism

Charlie, age five, presents with autism, anxiety, poor attention, and significant sensory-motor delays. Goals of treatment with his therapist were to increase motor coordination and regulatory capacity for the purpose of increasing social participation and completion of learning and school-related tasks.

His in-home occupational therapist developed an individualized treatment plan for Charlie, which included the Focus System, also known as the Integrated Listening System, an approach that required listening and activities during sessions for 30 minutes, in addition to sessions conducted by his mom at home. This combined occupational and listening therapies, and, thereby, incorporated classical-music programs, bone conduction delivered through a specialized headset, and a range of motor, visual, and cognitive playful activities selected by the therapist.

After three months, Charlie’s mother reported significant improvement in his abilities to attend group play sessions, make friends on the playground, and in physical skills like balancing, jumping, climbing, and running.

This is one of many successful examples of integrating sound and movement into therapy. Listening therapies are one of the most structured, evidence-based ways to readily and effectively incorporate sound and movement into your practice. By doing so when development or function is disrupted or impacted by injury or illness, sound and movement may be used to enhance neural recovery and to support return to meaningful occupations.

Where to Learn More

Nervous system structures, brain architecture, and integrated neural pathways are the foundation of sound and movement in everyday life. Integrative practice combines evidence-informed frameworks rooted in neuroscience to mindfully and intentionally influence outcomes within a therapeutic process. Through use of listening therapies that include sound and movement, you may grow your capacity to be innovative and effective at promoting occupational performance for your clients throughout life.

Interested in learning more about using sound and movement effectively in therapy? Take the following courses offered by MedBridge: