Disabilities & Rehabilitation
Voice Movement Therapy founder Paul Newham began developing his modality of therapeutic voicework in hospitals with patients who had experienced illness, disabilities, and accidents that negatively impacted their voice or hindered vocalization. It was in this context that he developed many of the therapeutic techniques and the deep understanding of affective sounds that became the expressive arts modality of Voice Movement Therapy.
Learning & Developmental Differences
Voice Movement Therapy is a person-centered way of working that does not rely on verbal or cognitive exchanges. As practitioner Deirdre Brownell (VMTR) writes: “[by] working in sound rather than focusing on words, you are working more with the right brain/creative center and it feels more like play and less like work. In children, this removes a lot of pressure and brings the practitioner down to their level, opening up the creative potential.” For people who have always felt like they never ‘measure up,’ working in sound and play can build confidence and a sense of accomplishment.
Working with specific breathing techniques, clients experience a feeling of contraction, expansion, and flow within the body. Incorporating VMT massage, manipulation, and compression techniques, the practitioner helps the client stimulate vocalization and understand how to create a supported sound. By exploring vocal resonance and the feelings of various sounds in the body the client develops body awareness. Engaging through movement and sometimes with musical instruments (a drum, for example), the VMT practitioner encourages more bodily connection and integration in the client.
Voice Movement Therapy offers affective education to clients through a uniquely creative and embodied strategy. The client takes the lead and the practitioner works with what is and with what can be done, without focusing on what is seemingly lacking. Practitioners create a safe space for the expression of all experiences, developing a meaningful connection with the client within the non-judgmental therapeutic relationship; clients feel seen and heard. Voice Movement Therapy can provide the client with a sense of agency that enables the expression and sharing of emotions.
In her article entitled ‘Teaching the Tube: Using VMT with Children Experiencing Language Delay’ (PVMTJ #3, 2008) practitioner Anne Brownell (VMTR) writes about her work in this context. “[T]he aim of my work is to facilitate sound out of movement and language out of sound…” Anne continues: “The purpose of using VMT with individuals with developmental, and especially language delays, is twofold:
1. To help persons with little or no verbal language to increase and focus their ability to vocalize: as a means of forming relationships, expressing their wants and needs non-verbally and, if possible, as a precursor to speech, preliminary to or in conjunction with the work of a speech/ language pathologist;
2. To assist persons whose social development is affected by limited language, physical/neurological conditions, behavioral disorder and/or emotional trauma, to find the voice to express what they mean and what they need.”
Aside from private individual sessions, some VMT practitioners offer group sessions for people living with chronic conditions. Such lively community singing sessions often become part of long-term treatment programs and are sometimes viewed by caregivers and participants as a physical therapy. Singing and supported breathing releases bodily tension while strengthening the diaphragm, toning the muscles of the face, mouth, and throat, and improving speech clarity. Carol Grimes writes: “Muscle tension and rigidity; shortness of breath; loss of vocal strength and stamina; monotonic speech patterns; imprecise articulation; a closing down of facial expression; low self-esteem; tremor in the jaw, lips, and tongue; disturbed swallowing patterns; fatigue – all these symptoms seem to be helped considerably with singing and breath work.”
Regular VMT group sessions are uplifting and supportive. Such groups give people a sense of belonging, purpose and community which takes them out of an all too common experience of isolation which can lead to depression. Nina, a participant of one of Carol’s groups says, “[w]hen we are singing together at the top of our voices, I feel a release from the constraints of my disease and a connection with joy.”
A sense of expansion
Voice Movement Therapy lends itself easily to those experiencing physical differences, difficulties, or challenges. VMT exercises and techniques can be applied to clients using wheelchairs or other assistive devices, those experiencing limited mobility and/or ranges of motion, those that prefer to sit rather than stand, etc. VMT welcomes, accepts, and celebrates the wide range of human physical capability and potential, with the philosophy that developing an embodied voice is a worthwhile endeavor and experience for all bodies.