BY JILL LAWTON
Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis is a French ear, nose, and
throat doctor who made astonishing medical and psychological discoveries
that led to audio-psycho-phonology, or the Tomatis method. Also called
“auditory training”, auditory stimulation”, and “listening therapy”, the
purpose of this treatment is to reeducate the way we listen, and it is
used in over two hundred and fifty centers around the world. (http://www.tomatis.com/overview.html)
The Tomatis method claims to benefit a wide variety of people. People suffering from auditory processing problems, dyslexia, attention deficit disorder, autism, and learning disorders can improve their communication and social behavior by auditory stimulation, which can eliminate or reduce the severity of the disorder. This is based on the belief that the symptoms of these disorders are not caused by the disorder itself, but by a sensory regulation problem that begins in our most primordial sensory instrument, the inner ear. (http://www.tomatis.net/Tomatis_tomatis.html) In addition, those suffering from depression, low self-esteem, or just wanting to learn a new language or fine tune their musical talent can also benefit from this unique treatment. Attention, focus, learning, and language abilities can all be improved by retraining the ear to listen using “charging high-frequency sounds”. (http://www.tomatis.com/overview.html)
BACKGROUND: THE EAR
The ear has three basic functions. The first
is the most obvious, the filtration and analysis of sound by a part of
the ear called the cochlea. This function consists of two parts:
hearing and listening. Hearing is a passive process and we have limited
abilities to improve it. Listening, however, is the ear’s primary
function. When the sensations are running smoothly, one can easily
process and filter sound. (http://www.tomatis.com/overview.html)
Events such as emotional stress, poor sensory stimulation and communication
models, or unpleasant childhood experiences can encourage a more selective
listening process and reduce the desire to listen at all.
The second function is the establishment of spatial dynamic, produced by the vestibular portion of the inner ear. The inner ear, or vestibule and cochlea, is linked to each other and the brain, almost all cranial nerves are somehow connected to the acoustic nerves. Through its strong influence on the fight against gravity and motion detection, the inner ear controls balance equilibrium, coordination, and muscle tone.
(http://www.tomatis.com/adresses.toronto.html) The third and most controversial function is the charging or recharging of brain. and in turn the body with electric potential. A “vibration sensor” within the ear sends this electric message to the brain to give both it and the body energy. When this nuerocharge is combined with the sounds filtered and produced by the cochlea, 90% of the total body’s charge can be accounted for by the inner ear. This charge is what sends messages to our joints, bones, and muscles and provides us with energy to think, create, and move It is created by high frequency sounds fond in Mozart and Gregorian chants. Low frequency sounds that come from rock or rap music make our bodies move to exhaustion, eventually draining energy from the brain. (http://www.tomatis.com/overview.html)
The inner ear, or vestibular-cochlear system, is one of the first sensory systems to develop in the fetus. By the fifth month it is fully developed and sending message to the rest of the nervous system. Early stimulation is vital to the portal central nervous system. This stimulation is caused by high frequency sounds. Low frequency sounds, such as heartbeat, breathing and visceral noises are filtered out by the amniotic fluid. (http://www.tomatis.net/Tomatis_tomatis.html) Therefore, the most dominating sound the developing fetus hears is the high frequency sound of the mother’s voice through bone conduction. Observations concur with Dr. Tomatis’s hypothesis that this voice plays an important role on the developing sensory system of a fetus. Phonemes are the smallest unit of sound; there are fifty phonemes that create all language. By the seventh month of development, a fetus has a specific, spontaneous muscular response to each phoneme the mother’s voice produces. This fascinating sensory-motor response can be inhibited by lack of or abnormal stimulation, causing the central nervous system to have difficulties perceiving and processing information. (http://www.tomatis.net/Tomatis_tomatis.html)
Another possible cause of disorders, learning disabilities, and depression is left ear dominance. Most people are surprised to learn we have a dominant ear, which controls the opposite side of the body (very similar to the brain). People who are right ear dominant have an advantage because the right ear processes much faster. They have more control over the parameter of their voice and speech. A study by two psychologists concluded that those with right ear dominance related to situations faster, responded to stimuli more appropriately, and had better control over their emotions. Those who had a dominant left ear tended to be more introverted and had less control over their responses to situations. The Tomatis method of auditory training claims to train the right ear to become dominant. (http://www.tomatis.com/overview.html)
In 1953, Dr. Alfred Tomatis said “The voice contains
only the sounds which the ear hears.” This quote basically sums up
the process he created to reteach the ear to listen. (http://www.tomatis.com/overview.html)
The program begins with an initial assessment with a consultant to test
present and potential hearing. The patient is also evaluated to ensure
that auditory stimulation is the appropriate treatment. Then a program
is custom made, but it follows a basic pattern. (http://www.tomatis.com/addresses.toronto.html)
The Electronic Ear is a tape recorder where sound is filtered and frequency
can be adjusted. Initially, workouts consist of sessions of listening
to very high frequencies that stimulate the pre-natal sounds and reproduce
the stages of development from an audial point of view. This training
makes it possible to switch ear dominance, reteach the listening process.
These passive exercises, which consist of listening to specific frequencies,
are gradually combined with active exercises utilizing the voice to maintain
the lessons learned. (http://www.tomatis.com/testimonials.
flores.html) For language learning and transformation of words and
pictures, beginning with pre-natal sounds enables a person to learn a language
quicker and more efficiently. (http://www.net/Tomatis_tomatis.html)
The first fifteen days usually require about two hours a day.
Subsequent sessions are shorter, with up to one or two months between each
TESTS AND STUDIES
There is a story that says Dr. Tomatis visited a
Benedictine monastery in France in the early 1960’s following the second
Vatican Council. One of the decisions the council had made was to
eliminate the traditional chanting for a more constructive use of time.
Gradually changes took place among the monks. They became more lethargic
and less motivated. Sleeping more and eating more was no help.
In February of 1952, Dr. Tomatis was invited back to evaluate the situation.
His Electronic Ear was put into use to improve the men’s hearing, which
had weakened since he had seen them last. He also requested that
the chanting be brought back into their daily routine. Nine months
later the monks had fully returned to their rigorous lifestyle of little
sleep, hard work, and vegetarian diets with renewed vigor. The singing
of the chant was believed to affect the brain as to bring energy to the
“I remember when I felt the miracle of Tomatis. I was in a cubicle doing an active listening exercise…Suddenly I could hear from an ear that seemed to be on top of my head, I began crying. It was a peak experience…I didn’t know that I had never heard my own voice.” Elizondo Flores claims that her whole life was changed as a result of the Tomatis auditory training. She felt more liberty, balance, vigor, and most importantly confidence and trust in her own life. Her communication skills, which used to be minimal as a result of low self-esteem, have improved tremendously, and she has a much better perception of who she is. (http://www.toamtis.com/testimonials.flores.html)
On a more scientific note, Dr. Plessis, an experienced therapist, conducted a more accurate study involving young females evaluated as “anxious” by the IPAT scale, a biographical questionnaire, and three other similar tests. Twenty girls were selected, and ten of them were used as a control. The remaining ten underwent sixty sessions of filtered music and regular therapeutic evaluations. Scores on the Purpose in Life test increased significantly in the experimental group but decreased in the control. Both groups scored better on the S.A Wechsler Intelligence Test, and the experimental group scored significantly higher on a measure of self-actualization. This same study was conducted on fourteen girls tested as “non-anxious”. The results were similar, but no control was used. About fourteen months later, a follow up concluded that both the anxious and non-anxious girls retained their increased level of self-actualization, but the control did not. (http://www.tomatis.com/depression.html)
In a study by the Tomatis Center in Toronto, Canada, over four hundred children and teens with histories of learning problems and under-achievement were treated. The parents graded the results of the therapy on a five-point scale. They reported improvements in the following areas:
Quality of Speech…74%
In a follow up report taken six months after the program was completed, 83% had maintained improvements, and some of these had continued to progress further. 14% of the children had maintained a portion of the gains. Only 3% had not maintained any improvements. In several French schools, the Ministry of Education funded the Tomatis Method for children with learning disabilities. The results were good enough that the program has continued year after year.
In the early 1980’s, De Bruto oversaw a controlled study on children with serious developmental problems who were residents of the Witrand Care and Rehabilitation Center in South Africa. This carefully controlled test consisted of three group: group A had Tomatis auditory stimulation and a sensory motor stimulation program, group B had a non-Tomatis auditory stimulation program and the same motor stimulation, and group C had no treatment. The Baily Scales of Infant Development and a measure of responsiveness indicated that both groups A and B showed an increase in mental age, but the increase in the Tomatis group was significantly higher. There was no change in the control group. (http://www.tomatis.com/overview.html)
In general, the few tests found on the Internet had positive results. However, documented clinical trials tended to be far less optimistic. A report by the American Speech Language Hearing Association assessed the investigations of the treatment in relation to functioning, emotions, and relationships. The results showed that the Tomatis method did not meet the scientific standards for efficiency (anonymous, 1994). J. Kershner reports in Learning Disability Quarterly that he retested 26 of 32 learning disabled children two years after treatment. A measure of auditory discrimination determined the placebos to be superior to the treated individuals (Kershner, 1986). Results of a one year follow up consisting of tests of intelligence, academic achievement, and linguistic skills of learning disabled children who both had and had not participated in Tomatis auditory training also failed to support the educational effectiveness of the program (Kershner, 1986).
Thirty-two learning disabled children between the ages of seven and fourteen were randomly assigned to the Tomatis Listening Training program. The remaining participated in the Special Tutorial Program, a control for effects of attention, parental interest, and possible placebo effects. The groups consisted of equal numbers of subjects with processing disabilities. The subjects were tested measured in psycho-educational ability, neuropsychological functioning, and self-concept before and after the program. There was no significant difference between the groups on the Tomatis Listening Test. There was significant improvement in both groups in achievement, linguistics, auditory perception, personality, and Tomatis laterality measures. No differences were found on the psychometer or the post-treatment questionnaire. These results suggest the that the Tomatis program is not an accurate method of remedying learning disabilities (Cummings, 1986).
Not all studies were negative; there were a few, vague sources documenting more positive results. The South African Journal of Psychology states that in an overview of eight studies of the effects of the Tomatis procedure on laterality, stuttering, anxiety, and mental handicaps. Overall it was documented that there were positive results: improved self-control, self-concept, interpersonal relations, and achievement (Van-Jaarsveld, 1988). In a book written by Dr. Tomatis, Dyslexia, he states that after auditory modifications that there was improvement in all subjects and permanent positive results (Tomatis, 1969).
One must always be skeptical when retrieving information
from the worldwide web. Based on this alone, it could be concluded
that the theory behind the Tomatis method is plausible. However,
little to no evidence was provided to prove right ear dominance to be beneficial
or that high frequency sounds really do “charge” the brain and the body.
There were also not many objective test results available. Most studies were either not scientific, as in the case of Mrs. Flores’s testimonial or the story of the monastery, or taken by centers that were probably trying to “sell” the program. No mention of cost was found. The few experimental results found taken by individual psychologists were somewhat obscure and possibly misleading. How could the control group scores decrease on the Purpose in Life test? How does one measure self-actualization? The studies mentioned also did a poor job controlling the outside variables. This program is difficult to evaluate because there is no black and white measure of whether or not it accomplishes its claims. Results could possibly depend on the individual’s pre-program condition, attitude, and expectations.
Objective clinical tests were difficult to find. Many of them were not in English and the abstracts were rather vague. The two overviews with positive outcomes had little to justify their conclusions. The South African studies had very little information available about who was tested, how they were tested, or how the studies were evaluated. The other was by Tomatis himself, so it could not have been completely objective.
Although the other studies found had more detail, it was still difficult to compare them because evaluation, procedure, control, and subjects differed from test to test. However, most of the conclusions were similar: the Tomatis method is not effective in creating or sustaining increased self control, intelligence, self- concept, hearing, or language skills. Although the auditory stimulation technique sounds like it would have some potential for improving a person’s listening and communication, after examining the clinical tests available one can conclude that it lacks the concrete evidence needed to become a standard treatment.
Anonymous. (1994). Auditory Integration Training. ASHA, 36, 55-58.
Cummings, Richard Lloyd. (1986). An Evaluation of the Tomatis Listening Training
Program. Dissertation Abstracts International, 47, 858-859.
Kershner, John R. (1990). Journal of the Division for Children with Learning Disabilities.
Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 13, 43-53.
Kershner, John R. (1986). Evaluation of the Tomatis Listening Program. Canadian
Journal of Special Education, 2, 1-32.
Tomatis, Alfred. (1969). Dyslexia. Ontario: University of Ottawa Press, 83.
Van-Jaarsveld, Pieter E; du-Plessis, Wynand F. (1988). Audio-psycho-phonology at
Potchefstroom: A review. South African Journal of Psychology, 18, 136-143.
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