Voice and Speech ARE Mental Health Issues


Voice and Speech
Mental Health Issues

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, so before May finishes out, I feel it's important to talk about voice and speech as they relate to mental health.

I'll start with this: There is no way a person can feel confident, happy, and at peace if they are not comfortable with the way they sound or the way they speak.

In my work, I help people find the voice inside them that is free of tension, old stories, and old habits picked up along the way. They start to connect to their voice in ways they typically had not experienced before.

I believe there is no faster, deeper, or more complete a way of getting to the core of the matter, shaking up the systems, and accessing re-set buttons- gently and oftentimes joyfully, than through voice. Why? Because it addresses these three systems: the body, the breath, and the mind.

Your voice is housed in your body. How you feel in your body impacts your voice. The power source for your voice is your breath. When it is held back, squeezed, or used in a shallow way, you are diminishing your own power.

Habitual tensions held in the throat, jaw, or any other place in the body dampen sound vibrations. How can your message resonate with your listeners if it isn't even fully resonating within you?

Old stories you carry around about yourself reveal themselves in vocal habits. Whether they were formed through societal norms and influences, your background, or personal experiences, they tend to reinforce stories that never did or no longer serve you well.

It's not uncommon for clients to experience relief, release, insight, a greater sense of freedom in their self-expression, and a broader perspective of who they are than through voice work; something that started out as a sound they weren't comfortable with. Listen to the voice deep down-it knows.

There are other cases where a person has just never learned how to "play" their voice and has gotten stuck in a habit of sounding that is not consistent with who they think and feel they are or want to be. Most people haven't had lessons in how to use this instrument. Is it any wonder so many people don't like to hear themselves on recordings?

More extreme cases...

I have had some fascinating and wonderful experiences over the years working with people and their voices.

One stands out in particular. Several years ago, I worked with a Japanese businessman who came to the U.S. for the purpose of both vacation and to address his English. He wanted to reduce his accent in both business and social settings.

Ryochi had a rather flat affect, and while English intonation is very different from Japanese, this aspect of speech was especially challenging for him. He told me that he had had catatonic schizophrenia when he was college age (he was 32 now), and while he had stabilized, there were still remnants, this flat, monotone speech being one. He said a former boss at a company he worked at in Japan had actually bullied him fairly cruelly about it.

The day after New Year's Eve, Ryochi told me that he had watched the ball drop in Times Square on tv the night before. He said that he was jealous of the revelers, the ones in the crowd who whooped and yelled in exuberant celebration. This was not something he could not do. He then opened his mouth wide and let out a diminished, faint "Ahh."

Well, you guessed right if you guessed that we would spend the whole session gradually building up bigger and bigger sounds until we were both yipping, hollering, and throwing our arms in the air along with our bellowing "whoop!"s.

For the following sessions, we decided to try some more vocal exercises. Some included singing; others involved making sounds from different parts of his body-sounds from down in his gut, strong sounds directed out straight from the solar plexus, sounds from his heart area, softer tones from his throat, then from his nose and face, his head. Some sounds were kind of deep and whaling, others strong and direct; some were soft and compassionate sounding; others were airy and light. This range of sounds emanating from different parts of his body elicited different feelings and emotions. You could see his face change as we did the exercises. Sometimes he got quite emotional. Occasionally he'd smile such a genuine smile it would almost make me cry.

The work we did to find these sounds in his voice, or recover them, was more valuable than the accent work-though that was valuable as well! Ryochi said he had no idea when he left New York that he would be a different person.

Can you see why my work is so meaningful to me?

Depression. I have a psychiatrist friend who occasionally sends me patients who are depressed. These individuals often speak with either or all of the following: low affect, low volume, flat tone.

The exercises I do with these clients vary, but overlap with the kinds I did with Ryochi. Also, it's absolutely amazing what character work can do. When a person allows themself to be a different person, they are capable of creating an entirely different voice! A different persona brings out very different sounds. My voice and accent clients know this to some extent-that character work can truly be the fastest means to an end.

When a depressed person is asked to sing, go up and down in their range, move with their voice, make all different kinds of vibrations and tones emanating form the various spaces within their bodies... Well, suffice it to say, I don't think any of these clients ever walked out of the office/studio without a smile on their face.

Lastly, a word about accents. This can be a controversial subject. My take: Some people want to change their accents. If this is something you want to address, it is no one's business but your own. Only you know what you need to feel confident, comfortable, and free in expressing yourself. The process itself will be illuminating-who knows what you'll discover.

In summary, yes, I believe the voice truly is the seat of the soul, and when you address it, you're really addressing everything.