LonePack Conversations- The Alternative Therapy Series: Sound Therapy ft. Suzy Nairn

At some point in our lives, a lot of us may have turned to music to make ourselves feel better, but did you know that mere sounds can have an impact on our mental health as well?

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Valerie- Welcome to LonePack Conversations! I’m Valerie.

Today we’re talking to Suzy Nairn, a singer, sound therapist and educator. She’s the founder of Soundsphere and the co-founder of ANSU School of Sound. She is also a member of the board of the International Therapeutic Sound Association. 

Hey, Suzy!

Suzy-  Hi, hello!

Valerie- It’s good to have you here today.

Suzy-  It’s good to be here. Lovely to be invited, I’m very keen to talk about Sound Therapy and how it can help people.

Valerie- Sure. Suzy, by profession, you are a Sound Therapist. You’re also a singer and a songwriter. What is the difference between sound and music, and between the alternative therapies of the same?

Suzy-  Yes, absolutely. When we’re working with music, we tend to be working a lot with rhythm, melody, lyrics, words, etc. When we’re working in Sound Therapy, we might bring in a little bit of rhythm and melody but actually, it’s a very much more open soundscape so we would use toys or undulating pulses and that can help bring a person into a relaxed state whereas singing and song-writing involves singing and writing songs, people are moving, people are engaged, they’re listening and maybe singing along in their head or tapping their foot. Within a sound journey, they tend to be resting in Sound Therapy. 

So the difference as well between Music Therapy and Sound Therapy is that Music Therapy is much more of a two-way process, so a music therapist would be talking and speaking with a client, where they would be using instruments to help express emotions that someone may not be able to express in words so it’s more of a communication tool whereas Sound Therapy is very much a treatment. The person is lying down, eyes closed, under a cozy blanket, etc. and they are receiving the sound. Although they are listening, they may actually drift off into a dream-like state. They are not required to be actively engaged, so it’s much more like a giving from the Sound Therapy, and the person is receiving it.  

Valerie- Yeah, it is quite interesting to know that on one hand when you have music, it’s something that’s more active, where you have participation from the person and Sound Therapy on the other hand is more on the basis of receiving sound and in terms of that, could you tell us what the therapeutic effects of sound are and how it relates to mental health?

Suzy-  Yes, so continuing on from that, when we were actually consciously working with the brainwave states, in music, our brainwaves are in the natural state of beta, where we’re active and engaged and there’s four main brainwave states that we’re all in at different times throughout the day, the beta state is what we’re in right now, where we’re talking, listening, and engaged whereas when we’re working with Sound Therapy, we’re using sounds and tones and different effects to slow the brainwaves down so that the person reaches a natural state of relaxation and it’s sometimes a state that people can’t reach themselves, especially if they’re worrying or anxious, if they’ve got very over-active minds or constant chronic pain. All of these things make it very difficult for a person to access a state of relaxation. 

What happens is when they are gently lulled into this natural brainwave state which we call the alpha-theta border, which is a bit like the moment when you’re just dropping off to sleep at night or you’ve just woken up and you haven’t really fully got onto your mind and what’s happening in the day, you’re in a sort of unknown physical state, almost. When a person reaches that natural brainwave state, we aim to keep them in that a little bit longer. Normally, it’s a brief moment while we’re there and they’ve shown that when people are in that state, the body actually undergoes their own physical self-repair so it’ll balance hormones, it’ll release tension that’s been held in the physical body, and all of these benefits can help people lessen their worries, help them gain a sense of peace and also which then helps them be more able to cope with life’s challenges, and we’ve seen that it can bring about pain relief in people, they might not need as much pain medication if they’ve got a chronic illness. 

I’ve got clients who have had very high blood pressure and after a number of sessions, that has completely stabilized. So there are all these different effects that are going on. It’s also the sounds and the way we weave these sounds. They also soothe the nervous system, it very much works with the vagus nerve, which is the biggest nerve in the body, and the vagus nerve is connected to our ears and travels all the way down through the body and connects with all the internal organs of the body, so when we’re giving that somebody and they’re receiving it, it’s soothing. It can soothe their frazzled nerves and wash away some of that tension. When people are tense and worried and are holding themselves tight, it helps the body to naturally start to relax and that process in itself can just be so beneficial for people. 

A lot of people say to me, after they’ve had a session, especially after the group ones, that they have a brilliant sleep. It’s amazing, the power of how it can really help people, and it does require skillful playing and that’s why I’m a real advocate for training in Sound Therapy because it’s really easy to just buy the instrument. Just like music, you can teach yourself to a point by watching and listening to other people but there’s actually a whole process of being a therapist, which is not something that you cannot just teach yourself. That is something that needs to be taught because sometimes, people can have really big emotional releases and you need to be able to handle that as a therapist.  Yeah, so there are a lot of ways that it helps people.

Valerie-  Right. Suzy, when you were telling us about this, you did talk about how sound helps release tension and help people reach a point where they relax to a point where they probably couldn’t by themselves and you talked about how it’s important to have a therapist with you so that if there are emotional releases, you have somebody who can help facilitate that. Is talk therapy at all a part of Sound Therapy? What exactly did it mean when you talked about “emotional releases”?

Suzy-  As a therapist, I will have a consultation with a client and whatever comes up in that is relevant to the person. We’re not necessarily trying to dig around but counselling and talk therapy does have a place, however in a one to one situation, we would have a consultation and discuss what the main issues for the person are, and then sometimes that process itself is very healing in itself and then they receive the sound. When we’re working on a one to one level, we’re working with the chakra system where we scan the body, the energetic system of the body, and there’s a bit of intuition as well, as to where the sounds need to be. We might even place instruments on the body, we might put the singing bowls on the body and ease tension in the body. 

So there’s a balance within talk therapy and within the sound in a treatment situation. When it’s a group situation, it’s a more general “sound journey” or a “sound bath”, so it’s not tailored specifically to one person, it’s more general but it might have a theme. So it might be for relaxation or it might be for energizing, or it may be connected to a specific season of the year, like we’re just coming into spring here in Scotland so I was just doing one last night connected to Spring and that was lovely! So we’ve taken some of those nice themes and then focused on a general soundscape that is designed around that.

Valerie-  Right. So, what was the inspiration behind founding Soundsphere and ANSU School of Sound?

Suzy-  Well, I first heard about Sound Therapy around about thirty years ago, a friend gave me a book on healing through sound and I was at the time interested in music but it was just a hobby of mine, and I liked singing, and this book sort of opened my eyes to the potential that there was in something such as Sound Therapy, and it wasn’t until around 2006, that became the time that I chose to train and that was because a close family member actually got very ill and I wanted to help her and lots of things like mainstream medicine weren’t able to support her in a more holistic way. They would give her the medicines but there was no other support, so I started to do more research. 

I’d done a little workshop a few years previous to that and I started to use my voice with her, I was doing relaxation sessions and she really responded so well that I decided to then go and train, and I did a two year practitioner level training course, and through that time I worked with my niece very closely and gave her a lot of sessions and it really helped her. Sadly, she did die because she was seriously ill, and it was a very very tragic situation but what I did see from it was how much benefit she got out of the Sound Therapy treatment and that after that time and when I completed my training, I felt so inspired to help others and since then, I have worked with terminal clients as well as people with stress or people who want relaxation, or even prevention – you can sort of prevent illnesses coming around. 

So that was why I started Soundsphere and I started running workshops and sound journeys. And then a number of years later, I’d been working with a colleague who trained together with me, Anthar Kharana, and we wanted to train more people because people kept coming to us asking if it could help children with autism, adults with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s and many situations, and I felt strongly that yes, it can but there’s only two of us here and at that time, Sound Therapy was still breaking through over here and it wasn’t that well known, it’s become a lot more well known and a lot of people training in it now, a lot of people offering sessions. So we started an annual course to be able to train more people to spread the word, and to be out there spreading the sound, so we’ve got students who are graduates now, who are working within mental health or with addiction groups or adding it into yoga classes, or many different things so that’s what we wanted to do. 

We wanted to see it in schools and hospitals and we’ve got a new school program that’s running this year and some of the schools in Scotland where we’re actually going to be teaching the children how to play some of the singing bowls and give some support to the teachers as well because obviously, we’re in this very stressful situation at the moment, so we want to offer some therapeutic sound but it’s also under some sort of music connection, so that the children will also learn to play these instruments because technically, they are quite simple to play but there is a bit of skill within that and extra techniques and it’s to do with how you blend the instruments and when you use different instruments. That’s where the skill and training comes in.

Valerie-  Yes. Well, thank you for sharing an experience so personal to you and actually letting us know that despite it being a tragic experience, you took that to help other people when you saw how it benefited your niece, and that it became just as important for you to make other people aware of the benefits of Sound Therapy and founded a school that trains people on how they can help do the same for other people.

Suzy-  Yeah, thank you. Absolutely, I get feedback from people all the time about how it really helps them with their anxiety and their headaches, it can also be really supportive when people are going through major transformations in their life, whether that’s a house-move or the end of a relationship, or they’re grieving, it can really help them in all sorts of different situations. There’s really so many benefits and it works. So when people ask if it can help with health issues, yes, it can sort of help everything because you’re working beneath the symptoms, you’re working underneath and behind and you’re not getting involved in the outer world situation such as a marriage breakup or the illness, you’re working behind that to support them and give them that sense of peace, to be able to cope with these things.

Valerie- Yes.  Personally, what is it about sound that brings you peace?

Suzy-  Well, I just love the different sounds and it gives me a lot of peace to actually know that it’s helping a lot of people and for my own personal experience, when I’m delivering sound or working with instruments, it’s a really creative process. It’s that feeling of getting in the zone. I actually get a lot of benefit out of it as well. I feel calmer afterwards and when you’ve been creative and when you’ve produced something, it’s quite a rewarding feeling in that way. 

I’m very conscious when I’m creating sound, I’m very engaged and I’m not going into the relaxed state, and I’m very intuitive as well, sort of creating and guiding and weaving the sounds together so I think all of that that gives me a sense of peace, and just helping and seeing the benefits that people feel. A lot of people have an experience of weightlessness, or they see colours or they get images, clarity and insight and a lot of different benefits that come from it. I’m sure that I get some of those benefits as well!

Valerie-  Well, Suzy it’s been really great talking to you and more than understanding what Sound Therapy is, it’s been inspiring to know your story and the fact that it’s so important of you to look at how other people have benefitted from sound therapy and what you provide them with, and that’s what helps you be peaceful and that’s what keeps you happy. Thank you so much for talking to us and giving us an insight into what Sound Therapy is, how it’s used. Thank you, Suzy.

Suzy- You’re welcome, Valerie. Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m delighted to be part of your podcast series.

To know more about Suzy Nairn’s work, head over to:

ANSU School of Sound


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