Mitch Nur
from: Mitch Nur
Category: Setting Standards

Undertaking an Assessment of Sound Therapy Training

Two years ago I set out on a research project to better understand how Sound Therapy was being taught globally. My mission was to engage this directly, by meeting teachers, academics, evaluating conferences on the subject, and informal talks with practitioners in this art. My travels took me to India, Nepal, United Kingdom, and various stops throughout the USA. I also solicited opinions through email, to Music Therapists and doctors in Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Canada, and Indonesia to name just a few.

The field of Sound and Music Therapy is wide and vast. There are many clinical approaches on one hand (i.e. Nordoff Robbins), and other methods that have little or no academic base, but are exhibited through a protocol that is simply "for the highest good." This is quite the swing of the pendulum. So I set out in 2014, to gather a better sense of what was actually going on.

Before I dug in my heels, I first took a look at how many books exist on the subject, and who was behind the research. But I also sampled the internet because this is now such a big part of everyone's lives nowadays. If you conduct a Google search on the term 'Sound Healing', over 12 million results show in the search engine; and on the term 'Sound Therapy', over 21 million results show for the term. Now of course this includes everything from musical instruments to hearing loss, but this is quite an overwhelming substance for those that are just showing an interest, looking for advice, or looking to study the subject.

Concentrating on the 'study' element of this research topic, as you move away from the university level of Music Therapy, there is a plethora of choices that run the gamut from music theory to astrology, to martial arts and even crystals. Much of this unfortunately, is musical instrument based, so it has more in common with learning a sound or musical instrument, than actual science and theory. The American educator Dr. Ruth Beechick once said' " A teacher who loves learning earns the right and the ability to help others learn." With this in mind, an evaluation was conducted to ascertain the qualifications of those teaching others. This was quite revealing to say the least, many of those teaching others are self taught themselves; and with little or no academic background or studies with others aligned in the field. Not that this should be the sole criteria, because many studies in Asia for example are from an Oral Tradition, and should be respected. But this area is a tricky one littered with channeling, and otherworldly aspects that are subjective rather than objective. But this is not a condemnation of the metaphysical, but more of a warning to those to have a disposition to not engage the necessary work to become educated, especially when it can involve the well being of others.

This is an area that I am quite familiar with, having taught Sound Therapy in the USA and abroad now for over 4 decades. In that time I have engaged many wonderful teachers, and in some cases, one's that are more aligned with the indigenous world than the academic. Different teaching styles have an affect on student learning, no two teachers teach the same way, just as no two students learn something the same way. This can be broken down into the Teacher Centered Approach, Student Centered Approach, Inquiry Based Learning, and Cooperative Learning for example. So the method regardless of academic credentials can make all the difference in how a student learns. So this is very important and should be a major consideration for those wishing to study Sound Therapy, like any other modality. A word of caution, you basically get what you pay for, so carefully analyze what you are receiving for your money spent on learning. This is also another slippery area, because many programs are costly and they promise many things, but they are at times simply a masquerade for musical instrument lessons and not a solid foundation in acquiring the qualifications of becoming a Sound Therapist, or simply a selling tool to sell you an instrument. What are these qualifications? Studies that involve the science of sound, psychology, physiology, anatomy, theory, methodology, history (Confucius said "A true teacher is one who, keeping the past alive, is also able to understand the present"), and philosophy to name but a few. This is the starting point to become an effective and skilled practitioner.

Evaluating this data brought me to many conclusions. First, the conversation of Sound Therapy is generally guided or steered by those that call it Sound Healing; which is a very suggestive title, and can in many cases, mean many different things. Honestly, in some cases this is a disservice, and should be discussed in an open forum to bring clarity. Second, there is little criteria to form the qualifications of those practicing. It runs the gamut of a weekend of studies at best, and in most cases, learning does not exceed 100 hours. I think it's fair to say that most people spend more time on learning how to drive a car, than actually studying Sound Therapy. Third, why has it taken so long to have an honest debate on this subject, when search engine results on Google show an overwhelming popularity?

Is this simply an exercise in allowing the marketplace to decide? Past experience in many fields including medicine dictates, that the last person talking about it, should not be the pharmaceutical companies; or in agriculture, Monsanto for example. Honest assessments should be conducted, open dialog and inquiry is suggested, and measured debate should be encouraged. I feel that the common ground in the end is to motivate better teaching methods, and more scholarly and effective students.

©2015 Mitch Nur, PhD
Posted: 01 Oct 2015 By: Tobias Kaye Tobias Kaye

I welcome Mitch Nur's opening of this debate and hope it gets a good airing.
As someone who has followed their own intuition in developing the Sounding Bowls I do in part feel spoken too, yet when it comes to learning how these new instruments might be effective I have watched and learnt from others, thus combining the academic and the inspirational approaches he recommends.

One point I would like to contribute an opinion on is the words therapy and healing.
To me these terms are not interchangeable.
Having watched, listened and read views by people describing themselves in both terms I have come to see them as distinct modus operandi
THERAPY appears to me as a way of engaging the activity of the client/patient either outwardly or inwardly, physically or psycho/spiritually such that their skills and abilities are increased. Here I would quote physiotherapy in which the abilities in a damaged limb may be returned to better function. Also psychotherapy in which such issues as traumatised relational patterns can be returned to more functional levels.
HEALING appears to me as a way of intervening below the level of conscious participation so as to assist a process, either physical or psycho/spiritual to enter a healing mode. Here I would quote the use of medication to heal an illness or hands on healing in which the client/patient remains similarly inactive, or vibrational 'therapy' intended to activate things below the level of attention in the client/patient.
I am aware that there is not quite this level of clarity in everyday usage of the terms. You might have heard "drug therapy" as a term in hospital use. Yet I would suggest that this is a misnomer and possibly taken as a term specifically in order to elevate drugs in situations where psychotherapy might have better long term effects.
I believe we should define these terms clearly along the lines laid out above and seek different practices and trainings for each discipline.
It seems to me that each of these activities requires a different approach, different techniques, different client relations.
I would be most interested in other practitioners experience and understanding on this.

Posted: 02 Nov 2015 By: Benjamin Savage

I work in education on a daily basis; orchestrating the construction and implementation of e-learning courses for numerous universities. These challenges you speak of, in my experience are inherently resultant due to the reality that each teacher is a unique collection of influences, just as each student is unique (as you yourself stated in this article). I think Mitch, that what you are hoping for, and correct me if I am wrong, is an ideal, unified, "harmonic therapy" curriculum that collects all the world's traditions in this arena, and a masthead or institution to house them all: A United Nations of Sound Healers, a Harvard of Harmonics. I too hope to see this come to fruition, for the benefit of all beings!

I see in the "Sound Healer" community (I don't like that term by the way), the same pattern that separates religious groups starting to take root: We all speak of and from a unified core of deep spiritual understanding, from the place of loving awareness, that is the spark in the center of all things, yet on the surface we are squabbling over personal-approach-minutia to a degree that we are separating from one another into factions of opinion. Can we the harmonic healers, wielders of the languageless infinite, be the new best model for a group that can agree on a base truth among all things in our practice, but somehow also allow for the surface, personal differences in approach and execution to be allowed? I think we can.

Posted: 30 Nov 2015 By: Mitch Nur Mitch Nur

This is good dialog, and an important first step. Responding to Tobias, I would add that 'healing' requires active participation by the person seeking wellness, and the 'provider' should be well aware of this and honest in their ability. This 'word' seems to have a very wide breadth nowadays, and I would suggest a narrowing of this definition would help matters a bit. To quote my colleague Alexandre Tannous " It does not make clear how sound acts upon us, because sound itself does not heal us. Rather, sound is used as a tool. It’s our awareness of what we can do with sound, and how it operates upon us, that is healing. But the “sound healer” does not actually heal with sound. The sound itself is not enough. The receiver needs to be engaged in a therapeutic experience, which is why I believe that “sound therapy” is a more appropriate term. Sound allows the body to heal itself when the person’s awareness is engaged." I feel that some 'middle ground' to what Tobias and Alexandre have presented allows us to explore 'talking points' more deeply. Benjamin offers up an analysis that summarizes a regularity approach of sorts or a code. His examination does hilight a truth of practice and the purpose of being a role model. I think this initial dialog offers an entry point for further discussion to develop.

Posted: 30 Nov 2015 By: Mitch Nur Mitch Nur

Something that should not be lost in our dialog is the point of how things in this area are taught. The majority of training is 'instrument' based, meaning we teach from an instrument like a drum for example. To me, this is more of a musical instrument lesson, than say science. I think we need to be honest, many 'sound healing training's' are focused on the instruments themselves, more than anything else. When you look at the total hours involved, much of those hours are nothing more than a lesson on how to play or engage the instrument. I think it's 'fair' to say that this assessment is valid. The science, and what Tobias mentioned regarding intuition are critical components; and moving the explanation from a lesson on an instrument to focusing on 'teaching' beyond the instrument is an essential part of this discussion.

Posted: 03 Feb 2016 By: Lyz Cooper Lyz Cooper

This is a really important conversation thank you Mitch for raising these points, really valuable!

Defining the similarities and differences between healing and therapy is important as it will help us to understand, further define and therefore communicate the different areas within the field of therapeutic sound to others. There is no doubt that the field is growing rapidly in the mainstream and therefore open and positive conversations are important. I am sure that in the future other areas will emerge within the field, which is really exciting, so getting some 'foundations' in at this stage is crucial, I believe, to creating a steadily growing, positive culture.

On the subject of sound healing and sound therapy, I wrote an article a while ago aiming to define the two areas of the field from information I had gathered as as co-founder of the Therapeutic Sound Association (formally the Sound Therapy Association). Myself and Sheila Hill of the School of Inner Sound approached many of the different training schools and people working in therapeutic sound over a period of 5 years, and out of these conversations, themes emerged. Healing can be a loaded word, as it can imply that there is someone that has the power to heal, and someone that doesn't - the client is being 'healed' in the Biblical sense, and that the client is passive in this process. However, healing is the natural process that the body/system goes through from illness to wellness - 'the healing process', and so I do think the word has a place, it depends on the context and the way it is defined.

In my opinion, (and in a nutshell), sound healing is the effect that sound has on the system (altering consciousness, lowering blood pressure etc). I have written articles about these healing effects based on my research (see my authors area). Sound therapy is the process of assisting a client to engage with their personal process, in my case I teach a reflective model known as The 5Rs Model of Experiential Processing to help with reflection. This model enables the client to improve their self awareness and become mind-full of the impact that their environment, beliefs, etc have on their well-ness and to become mind-empty when it comes to unhelpful dialogue.

Sound applied in specific ways helps the client achieve an altered state of consciousness (ASC) which hopefully softens the mental, emotional and physical bodies (no guarantee!), and the reflective element helps them to move forward from that more softened state by transforming their beliefs and making appropriate changes in life/mind. Sound therapy, in my opinion, is different to sound healing, and they need to stay seperate in order for clients and students to choose the approach that suits them the best. Both approaches are needed and valid, as long as the word 'healing' and 'therapy' are defined in the right way by the organisation teaching the method. Education is needed within the community and in the mainstream in order to communicate the different approaches clearly as there is some muddying of the waters at the moment.

With regard to training courses, when founding the original Sound Therapy Association (now Therapeutic Sound Association) Sheila and I met with many different prominent people in sound in the UK and asked them to contribute towards helping to set accepted minimum standards for training, ethical and professional practice guidelines. Three training schools came forward, The College of Sound Healing, The School of Inner Sound and The British Academy of Sound Therapy (BAST). We consulted with other complementary medicine training schools, and membership bodies (ICNM, BCMA) to gauge how many in class, home study, case study hours etc comprise the average professional training course across the complementary health board within the 'low risk' sector, which is where therapeutic sound is placed. From this we set a minimum agreed standard, a code of ethics and best practice. Last year we decided to change the name from the STA to the TSA to enable us to be more inclusive and embrace a larger sector. There seems to be some reticence with some sound training schools in the community to join the TSA, but the energy in the wider sector is very positive.

Any training establishment that is a member of the TSA has demonstrated that they train people to the accepted standard, and in some cases, above the minimum level of hours required. Speaking for BAST we place importance on the theoretical elements, research and development etc as well as the playing techniques, which are introduced, but then the student is encouraged to immerse themselves in the playing and sonic discovery of their tools with coursework outside of class-time, which in itself is over 100 hours, so home study is also something that needs to be factored in when looking at training.

When prospective students are looking for a training course, and put faith, trust and money in an organisation, they really need to know that their qualification is going to hold water, and be worth something at the end of the day. It would be wonderful if more schools and individuals would come forward to be a part of the TSA, to help this wonderful field to grow and to have conversations such as this, so we can move forward with what we are all passionate about - therapeutic sound.

Posted: 29 Feb 2016 By: Mitch Nur Mitch Nur

Thank you for joining the conversation Lyz, and offering some very good talking points. Clear definitions are needed, if only for clearing up any misunderstanding. I feel it's important for those of us involved in the therapeutic use of sound to carry the discussion and steer the conversation. One problem from where I see it, is that for quite some time now the conversation has been steered by amateurs or those that have a vested interest in selling products and services, and not education. Your comment "There seems to be some reticence with some sound training schools in the community to join the TSA", makes me wonder why, and possibly one of these schools could offer their insight on why they do not want to co-operate? Arriving at a consensus for educational standards, ethics, and best practices are key for arriving at an honest and committed relationship to the community seeking services. It only makes sense to put something like this into place. I personally would like to see as much input into this topic as possible, as a way of addressing this in a responsible way. And to ascertain where issues actually lie.

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