How a little known listening program heals a range of “incurable” ills: Interview with Laurna Tallman

In her book Listening for the Light and in her extensive writings on the importance of music therapy for the ear and brain, Laurna Tallman has not only focused her considerable insights on the healing of dyslexic syndrome, schizophrenia, bipolarity, chronic fatigue syndrome, and substance abuse, but also on the socio-economic context where many find themselves unable to access the therapies that may truly help them. What little I had absorbed about the Tomatis therapy (the starting point of her work), even after undergoing the therapy myself and devoting a chapter of my own book to it, was unclear and confusing. I had no idea why Tomatis therapy might be key in treating my son’s schizophrenia. Laurna’s book changed that. The Tallman Paradigm is a theoretical, neurological framework for behavior that builds on and extends the work of Alfred A. Tomatis, with an important contribution from Vilayanur S. Ramachandran.

Simply put, the Tallman Paradigm maintains that altering the right ear with music has a global effect on brain function by making the left-brain dominate in cerebral integrative processes. The stapedius muscle in the right middle ear controls the amount of sound energy that reaches the left brain. If that muscle is weak or damaged, the left-brain cannot maintain its dominance over the right-brain. In people with a very weak ear muscle, the hemispheres trade “dominance” every two minutes. That condition of non-dominance, she asserts, characterizes schizophrenia, autism, and the state of normal sleep. The illnesses can be healed by using high frequency music, which Tomatis appreciated for its power, and headphones modified by blocking the left earpiece to force right-ear listening. A very important added bonus for anyone wanting to do the Tallman therapy is that anyone can do the therapy. You don’t need to travel to an expensive Tomatis center to benefit. People of any income level, no matter where they live, can heal themselves cheaply. The only equipment needed is ordinary headphones, a few CDs of Mozart violin concertos or other classical violin music, and a CD player such as a walkman or a computer. Laurna‘s website is another instance of Internet distance learning that people can apply in their own homes. She has several publications for people wanting to dig deeper into her discoveries.

Interview with Laurna Tallman, author of Listening for the Light

RF: I devote one of the chapters of my book, The Scenic Route, to the Tomatis Method therapy, which my son first underwent for a total of 60 hours in 2009. In 2009, the therapy produced interesting small changes in Chris. Not being particularly enlightened as to why he should continue the therapy once he had completed the 60 hours, I thought once was enough. What I took away from my meetings with the director of the program was that Chris would just “blossom” in some undefined way over time. When I finished my book in the late summer of 2017, Chris and I had some free time to revisit some of the therapies that (a) were covered by our insurance and (b) had a somewhat documented body of knowledge behind them, which is the case for Tomatis therapy. Both of us did the therapy this time, for 40 hours each. I felt energetically rejuvenated, but came away none-the-wiser about what this therapy can do for people or why Chris and I should stick with it.

Laurna, I suspect that my impressions of Tomatis therapy are shared by others. Tomatis therapy is expensive. Tomatis clinics usually are restricted to large population centers and the treatment is not covered by a lot of insurance plans. Can you expand on any other of its drawbacks when it comes to schizophrenia and the other conditions and why you advocate using Focused Listening?

LT: Yes, I can. But, first, I want to express my appreciation for the genius of Tomatis that led to important discoveries and my gratitude for the kindness of practitioners who use that method to reach out to people in need. Four members of our family experienced some version of the Tomatis Method and each made astonishing recoveries from dyslexic syndrome or from chronic fatigue syndrome. Those healings were not permanent, however, which set me on my own road to discovery. I would learn that treatments affecting the ear cannot be guaranteed to be permanent because the ear is easily harmed, for example, by loud noise, by infections, and by other means. Continue reading “How a little known listening program heals a range of “incurable” ills: Interview with Laurna Tallman”

Listening for the Light: A New Perspective on Integration Disorder in Dyslexic Syndrome, Schizophrenia, Bipolarity, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Substance Abuse

Book review of Listening for the Light: A New Perspective on Integration Disorder  in Dyslexic Syndrome, Schizophrenia, Bipolarity, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Substance Abuse, by Laurna Tallman

Listening for the Light author Laurna Tallman channels her considerable insights gained from understanding the tasks of the left and right hemispheres of the brain into practical advice for regaining optimal physical and mental health.

In normal brain function, both cerebral hemispheres process information, such as language. Both sides work together to maintain physical coordination and take in complex information. The left hemisphere has more control in the processing of tasks such as language and logic, while the right hemisphere has more control in processing tasks related to creativity and intuition. In cases of schizophrenia (and other mental illnesses to varying degrees), language and logic are severely interrupted (deficient) while creativity and intuition are wildly chaotic (hampered by the left hemisphere deficits). This book delves into the question of what causes the left hemisphere to lose its dominance, or, to put it another way, what causes people with mental disorders to become disorganized in the skills most needed to manage daily life (language and logic)?

The brain and the entire body are powered by sound energy entering both ears. The “normal” function of the stapedius muscle of the right ear is to quickly and directly energize the “logical” left brain with sound energy. The stapedius muscle of the left ear launches sound energy entering the left ear on a circuitous route before feeding the information to the larynx. Dr. Alfred Tomatis, an ENT doctor, scientist, and founder of the method named after him, knowing that right-ear sound is a more direct route to the larynx, determined that it is the right ear that controls the voice, concluding that the voice can only reproduce what the ear can hear. Tomatis was not talking about “tone” (the quality of a sound) he was talking about “pitch” (the frequency of the sound being produced, e.g., “C” instead of “D-flat”). And he was talking, first, about singers. (His father was an opera singer.) He thought in terms of “overall pitch” of the speaking voice in various languages. He paid no attention to what caused nuanced tone in the speaking voice. (e.g. there is little nuance in “flat” affect, a negative symptom of  schizophrenia.) He had no idea what caused garbled speech, although he knew the right ear needed to be dominant to stop stuttering and to help dyslexics. And herein lies Tallman’s neurological paradigm: His ideas of ear dominance did not extend to cerebral dominance. Tallman is the one who saw that connection: that altering the right ear was having a global effect on brain function by making the left-brain dominate in integrative processes. Tomatis just thought each half of the brain ran at a different speed. Integration wasn’t on his radar. 

Tallman asserts that most mental illness begins in the ear, and, specifically with a weakened stapedius muscle in the right middle ear. When the right ear stapedius muscle is either naturally weak or weakened by drugs, exposure to loud noises, etc., corrective stimulation needs to be applied. More energy needs to flow through the right ear to enable the left brain to assume its dominance in language and logic. Focused Listening strengthens the right ear to increase that sound energy flow. She makes an excellent case for why this is so.  When I came across Tallman’s book, having had some experience with the Tomatis Method, suddenly I had an comprehensive, coherent, and plausible explanation for the origin of my son’s symptoms and a clear idea , thanks to this book, on how to improve on the Tomatis Method‘s shortcomings. Continue reading “Listening for the Light: A New Perspective on Integration Disorder in Dyslexic Syndrome, Schizophrenia, Bipolarity, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Substance Abuse”

Latest review of The Scenic Route

A Review of Rossa Forbes’s The Scenic Route: A Way through Madness
by Laurna Tallman

Rossa Forbes writes about her son’s schizophrenia with the clarity of an investigative reporter. She describes Chris’s symptoms as she observed and learned about them, including a very interesting perspective on his childhood for anyone alert to symptoms of early ear dysfunction. She faces with ruthless honesty the psychiatric and pharmaceutical establishments in her country of origin, Canada, and in Switzerland where the family was living. If she had been treated with equal candour and willingness to learn, she would have had a better grasp of Chris’s weak self-control, fragile grip on reality, fatigue, altered learning abilities, and other personality changes, as well as with the effects of medication on his former capabilities. Instead, like so many parents and caregivers, she had to learn about those characteristics of schizophrenia and of psychoactive drugs through trial and error. Like any parent whose child has been committed to an institutional setting for his or her protection, and the protection of others, she gradually learned that the medical/psychiatric profession strategies and medications do not heal, only control. At the same time, she noticed that vague hopes and promises of improvement came with those strategies and that they were proving false.

After three years of co-operating with this misleading medicalized paradigm, Forbes decided to explore other possibilities. She conceded the need for some medication, but she withdrew her son and the family from group therapy Continue reading “Latest review of The Scenic Route”

The Quiet Room

Now that I’ve finished writing my own book, I’ve got time to catch up on what I haven’t been reading. The Quiet Room: A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness, by Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett, wasn’t on my “must read” list because I had heard that Schiller credits her recovery largely to clozapine, and that didn’t set well with my understanding of what a “good” recovery should be attributed to. (I’ve become less hardline on recoveries since then.) So, looking for a good read, I purchased the book on Kindle.

As an aside, just about all my reviews gets four or five stars for the simple reason that the memoirs come highly recommended by other readers. I don’t finish books that I don’t enjoy.

So, five stars for The Quiet Room. The story is rather unique because it’s not only from the author’s perspective, but also from the candid perspective of each of her parents, her brothers, her psychiatrist. What I find interesting about this 1994 book is that it was published in a decade that saw the biomedical model of mental illness take off. There was talk in the book along the lines of “getting the chemistry right,” “finding the right drug and drug combinations” and how the newer antipsychotics were changing the treatment landscape. Lori Schiller  Continue reading “The Quiet Room”

Interview with Ann Cluver Weinberg, author of The Danny Diaries

Ann Cluver Weinberg is a South African writer. In this 2013 interview she discusses how the diagnosis and the gloomy attitude of the doctors was an impediment to helping her help her son. I so identify with what she went through:

“I was frighted and I was frightened by the doctors being so frightened themselves. I thought doctors and psychologists ought to calm you down but these ones were saying “do you know, Mrs.Weinberg, you have got here a very disturbed boy!”

Read my review of The Danny Diaries here. There are two parent memoirs about schizophrenia that capture my own understanding of how to help someone transition through psychosis to recovery. The Danny Diaries is one.

Walks on the Margins: A Story of Bipolar Illness

Walks on the Margins: A Story of Bipolar Illness, by Kathy Brandt and Max Maddox

Review (by Rossa Forbes)

When I review memoirs of mental illness, I feel that I should say first where I am coming from and why I like to read these kinds of memoirs. (There really should be a name for this genre.) I am the mother of a son, a little younger than Max Maddox, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and who is following his own artist’s path, with his mother in tow. Like Kathy Brandt and other mothers, I’ve been working on a memoir, too. The focus of mine is finding out how best to help my son, learning about what constitutes good recovery and how to get there. How to get there often involves finding out what others are doing, and how this works out for them or their relative. I bang my personal drum against the purely medical model, which until recently, has been the dominant model propped up by the pharmaceutical industry aided by an unquestioning public. My writing style tends to be rather conventional, and factual, although I’m struggling to make my memoir worthy of the journey my son and I have taken.

With this preamble out of the way, I am flat out awestruck by the mother and son writing team, and frankly envious. Walks on the Margins takes serious literature turns, outstanding in a memoir. I’m thinking road trip writing –authors like Jack Kerouac, J.D. Salinger, Hunter S. Thompson. Not to forget Mark Vonnegut.

This is the painter’s version of 21st century Chicago, as told by Max.

“In the still electric air, the sun slid beneath a satin graphite carpet, dark gray hooks dipped toward the horizon. Arms bent, shoes off, I sent doves up to the sky in a swirl as the sun broke once more, splashing the icon on a Baptist black velvet canvas, falling to my knees I grasped for this dream coming to me so slow, leaving me to doubt.

“Are you okay?” Four teenagers wondered why I was bawling and curled up in the dirt among discarded drug paraphernalia.

“I need an ORANGE,” as in vitamin C and citrus fruit, lifted from Cezanne’s bowl, the shape of release from the great weight of my role. But of course this misadventure had not befallen us all, which may have been all that ever mattered, and off they went with something to consider between them.

“They would call me crazy,assuredly they had done so already. The difference I guess was that something within them remembered that God does not like to offer proof precisely when it’s asked of Him. Or then again perhaps they simply knew the master plan better than I, which I couldn’t now distinguish from my own.”

The mother Kathy’s voice is just as good in its own way, tempered of course by practicalities of immediate focus of struggling to keep the wild, paint-the-town excesses of her son in check.”

Where I find the book slightly disappointing is toward the end. I was really enjoying the trip and then felt like I was dumped on the curb without explanation, because, unbeknownst to me, the end of the journey was in site. We’re rolling along the road, picking up speed to some destination or resolution or thoughtful self-reflection, and suddenly Max graduates from college, seems to transition fairly effortlessly to graduate school and they’re back home in the driveway. Kathy speaks about recovery, but I wish she had said more about how she thought she and Max arrived at that point. She has taken National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Family-to-Family program , which gives her the institutional view of how recovery is possible:

“By the end of our twelve week class, many had let their anger go and quit blaming their loved-ones. And we’d stopped blaming ourselves. We’d accepted the “new normal” of life with mental illness. We left that last night with two-inch thick binders filled with information about mental illness, about what to do in a crisis, and how to communicate, problem solve, and take care of ourselves. We’d become educated and empowered. We’d learned that recovery was possible, and that we weren’t as alone as we’d once thought.”

That’s what’s being taught? Accept that Max is mentally ill, don’t blame him, and learn to navigate bureaucracy? After the intense, searing experience that somehow worked out reasonably well for Kathy and Max, but with few clues as to why or how. There is so much more to the mechanics and the joy of “recovery” (or whatever we want to call it) that involve daily exercises in patient, faith, hope, empathy that radiate outward to embrace the whole family. These can be taught, but we first have to come from a believing place that our relative is not sick or diseased. While it is true that everyone has to tell their story in their own way –and this is a great story– it is exceptionally great because of the art and the passion. Am I being romantic about mental illness if I prefer to focus on what’s right about an individual rather than what’s wrong with him? Is it better to focus our efforts on nurturing the artist rather than getting bogged down by the constant background noise? (Dubious science, harmful diagnoses, and money, always money issues.)

This book was obviously several years in the making, and a lot has changed. To gain a better understanding of recovery we need to start by rejecting the diseased brain, chemical imbalance, genetic pre-disposition to mental illness theories in favour of what many would say is the romantic idea that our problems/our humanity/our greatness are more home-grown. I say this simply because in recent years the science behind the “evidence” has been exposed as tenuous, flat out wrong, or simply wishful thinking.

Here’s an American Psychiatric Association news release from May 2013.

“The promise of the science of mental disorders is great. In the future, we hope to be able to identify disorders using biological and genetic markers that provide precise diagnoses that can be delivered with complete reliability and validity. Yet this promise, which we have anticipated since the 1970s, remains disappointingly distant. We’ve been telling patients for several decades that we are waiting for biomarkers. We’re still waiting.”

That’s enough drum banging on my part for now. I highly recommend this book. The writing is a delight. 

You can order this book at Amazon.

Robert Whitaker and alternative mental health

Robert Whitaker’s new book, Anatomy of an Epidemic is not intended to be about alternative health care, although he does write about the Open Dialogue program in Western Lapland and cites studies on exercise for depression. His Mad in America blog also references these two areas.  Whitaker’s book is a stunning public policy critique, a self-help book only in the sense that it may galvanize people who are on way too many psychiatric drugs to taper or get off them completely.

Many people who read Whitaker’s book may be left with the impression that outside of what’s happening in Lapland and doing laps for depression, that’s about it for alternative help.

Fear not. Most people who recover do it their way. They do whatever it takes. My blog lists the best that my own research has uncovered. Vitamins and mineral supplements in high doses act like drugs – with side benefits, not side effects. Then there are various kinds of psychotherapies – one reader insists that cathartic psychotherapies are the best (and I agree). There is cognitive behavioral therapy that many people say has benefited them. Then there is energy medicine in its many forms. I am a particular fan of the Assemblage Point Shift. It’s cheap, non-invasive, shamanic in origin, fun to participate in, and it corrects your energy imbalance in ways that you can see almost instantly. Sound therapy – totally new and exciting. The particular kind of sound therapy that Chris undergoes is very similar to taking LSD under controlled conditions. The medical profession is only beginning to look into LSD as a useful treatment for mental illnesses. You can control your consciousness now by undergoing sound therapy without having to get the blessing of the medical community.

No doubt Robert Whitaker will be writing another book on mental health in America. It would be simply fabulous if his next book is on the subject of how the mental health “industry” has discouraged recovery for those in need by demonizing alternative mental health treatments, practitioners, and out-of-the-box thinkers who challenge the status quo.

Getting there sooner rather than later

Another reason why I like the book, The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure by Chris Prentiss is because he maintains that if you want to get to the bottom of your problems, the multiple therapy approach is best and it works faster. Many people can go for years seeing the same therapist and never become well or else not well enough. This may be because they are undergoing the wrong therapy or perhaps because they do not have a good rapport with the therapist.

Since the goal for everyone should be to resolve their problems as quickly as possible, people should be free to pick and choose their therapy and their therapist, and use several different therapy approaches. People should be free to choose but in reality they are not, as I have found trying to ask Chris’s doctors for the use of other therapies while he was under their care. Just because psychiatry is slowly opening the door to acknowledging the value of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for schizophrenia doesn’t mean that CBT should be the only therapy employed. CBT may not work for you.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be slow going, so I have introduced Chris to Family Constellation Therapy, sound therapy including the Tomatis Method, and Emotional Freedom Technique. I am of the strong opinion that schizophrenia needs to be solved at the intuitive level. You literally have to become a different emotional being inside your body in order for your sense of self to develop.