Therapeutic Listening

Listening difficulties are many times a component of other perceptual, motor, sensory, and learning difficulties that affect a large number of children and adults with processing problems. Listening is an entire brain function which goes beyond the auditory system alone. Therapeutic Listening is a treatment approach that uses electronically altered music in combination with sensory integrative intervention, thus incorporating the whole body.

The development of this dynamic form of sound technology is based on the works of Alfred Tomatis, Guy Berard, and Ingo Steinbach who are leaders in the field of auditory intervention. Prior to this, therapists had no specific sound tools to use in conjunction with other therapeutic intervention strategies. The emphasis of the Therapeutic Listening program is to combine sound intervention strategies with vestibular-proprioceptive organization to help the body and mind become centered.

Our entire body is activated when we listen, thus we “listen” with our whole bodies. The use of sound is so intimately connected to movement that children often feel more compelled to explore their environment in new ways once having begun a therapeutic listening program. Changes can often be seen in many aspects of physical, social, emotional, and academic performance within a few weeks. Preliminary research findings by K. Cantrall at Cleveland State University have found statistically significant improvement on Peabody Development Motor Scales-2ndR, Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration, Draw-A-Person, and Preschool Language Scale 3rdR, in 15 developmentally delayed preschoolers.

There are a variety of music styles, types of filtering, and levels of complexity to choose from when developing a therapeutic listening program. The type of music chosen is specific to each child and his needs. Some areas of change that have been noted when a child is on a listening program are:

  • Increase arousal, attention, and focus
  • Improved receptive and expressive language
  • Improved speed of processing for motor and language
  • Improved pragmatic language
  • Increased balance and coordination
  • Increased praxis
  • Improved affect
  • Improved motivation
  • Increased awareness of the environment
  • Improved postural and gravitational security
  • Improved modulation


  • Decreased sensory defensiveness
  • Improved organization
  • Self-initiation of play and work behaviors, and increased verbal interaction
  • Improved social and emotional development
  • Increased eye contact and tracking
  • Decrease in self stimulation behaviors
  • Increased functional independence
  • Improved feeding skills
  • Improved eating and sleeping patterns
  • Improved awareness and regulation of hunger and thirst patterns


The length of a typical therapeutic listening program is two to six months; however, it is not uncommon to continue the program for longer. Many times there are specific CD’s in the child’s library that are used by the child, on going to assist with organization and modulation.

Common Questions:

Q: When designing a Therapeutic Listening program for a child, what things are you looking for during the assessment?

A: The assessment involves an informal observation and interview, as well as standardized testing. The interview explores a typical day for the child; what the day looks like from the time the child wakes until bedtime. Standardized testing is done depending on the age and abilities of the child, which also determines which assessment tools are used. Finally, observation of postural organization and movement is evaluated during unstructured activities. All of these factors are taken into consideration when assessing a child for a potential therapeutic listening program.

Q: How do you determine which CD is best, once the program is recommended?

A: The CD is chosen depending upon the results of the evaluation. The program begins with a selection of modulated CDs that accentuates the differences between high and low sounds. This type of processing helps build the basic foundation for the child when there are disruptions in the sensory systems or in the way that the individual processes information. This then lays the ground for more advance CDs later on, which impact higher-level skills, or more refined and discriminative skills. There is a lot of variability in how a listening program is selected, taking into consideration the level of activation a child requires and/or how much input a child seems to need.