Lyz Cooper
from: Lyz Cooper
Category: Sound Research

Sound Affects: Sound Therapy, Altered States of Consciousness and Improved Health and Wellbeing

Abstract


A study using a specific method of sound therapy (Himalayan singing bowls, transitioning to Gongs, 

transitioning to crystal singing bowls, transitioning to therapeutic percussion) was delivered in two 

ways – by a live soundbath, where subjects lay on the floor and received around 35 minutes of 

sound, and by a recording of the same which was available online.  The focus of this research was to 

answer the following questions.

1. Is live sound more or less effective than digitally recorded and delivered sound and across 

what domains?

2. What are the consciousness altering effects of this method and to what degree are the 

domains effected? 

3. What are the therapeutic benefits of sound induced ASC? 

Data was analysed by a test known as a Chi Square analysis to gauge significance.  Statistically 

significant, highly significant and extremely significant data was produced in the domains of Physical 

Relaxation, Imagery, Ineffability, Transcendence of Time and Space, Positive Mood, Insightfulness, 

Disembodiment and Unity across both live and recorded studies.   These findings have far-reaching 

implications for the use of sound therapy, specifically sound induced altered states of consciousness 

(ASC) going forward. 



Introduction and Context

Over a 20 year period of working with therapeutic sound using techniques developed by myself, 

many people receiving sound therapy treatments have received benefit from life-limiting health 

issues such as anxiety dis-orders, chronic pain, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome to name a few.  

The thousands of case studies undertaken by our students and the team at The British Academy of 

Sound Therapy (BAST) have highlighted common experiences that individuals receiving treatments 

and relaxation sessions share.  These include seeing colours pulsing behind closed eyes, floaty 

feelings and feeling deeply relaxed, reduced anxiety and muscle tension, losing a sense of time 

and/or having spiritual or mystical experiences, to name a few.  Some of the above effects indicate 

that these individuals were entering an altered state of consciousness (ASC).  An ASC is a natural 

everyday occurrence that happens when the brainwaves go into a lower frequency across many 

areas of the brain, resulting in day-dreamy sensations. These ‘screen-saver’ modes that we go into 

during the day enable the system to rebalance and result in chemical balance and mental 

refreshment if we allow them to continue for long enough, however because normal everyday life 

does not give us opportunity to remain in this state for long enough our brain and body do not have 

enough time to balance. 

On looking at previous studies it was shown that different relaxation methods result in different 

depths of ASC.  A study undertaken by Dietrich (2013) showed that the depth of ASC was greater in 

meditation than hypnosis, p.238.  Travis & Shear (2008) conducted a study using EEG which showed 

three different styles of meditation produced different effects.  (Travis & Shear, 2008).  Another 

study, this time focusing on Transcendental Meditation conducted by Wallace, (1970) led him to 

suggest that meditation induced a fourth state of consciousness that was different from waking, 

dreaming and non-dreaming sleep. (Wallace, 1970; Banquet, 1973, in Deane & Shapiro p.228-231).  

There was very little research on sound-induced ASC and nothing which measured the depth at 

which an ASC is experienced and little that suggested the benefits of sound-induced ASC. 

A study by MacLean et al., (2011) in McGlothlin et al., (1967, et al., 2011, p.1453) suggested that 

altering consciousness may help nurture a positive culture, encourage openness and result in an 

increased appreciation of music, the arts and nature.  This was suggesting that a greater level of 

wellbeing was noticed in those that had altered their consciousness – they had ‘opened their minds’.

The researchers in the above named research used a questionnaire which gave me the basis upon 

which I could create an effective way of measuring responses to the sound.  I began a study which 

asked the following questions. 

1. Is live sound more or less effective than digitally recorded and delivered sound and across 

what domains?

2. What are the consciousness altering effects of this method and to what degree are the 

domains effected? 

3. What are the therapeutic benefits of sound induced ASC? 



Methodology

To first identify whether there was a difference between live and recorded therapeutic sound two 

studies were undertaken - a live study comprising 15 people who received a soundbath relaxation  

session lasting approximately 35 minutes (I would have liked to have worked with more people but 

time was short).  The sounds played during the soundbath session were recorded and made 

available online for 64 participants that volunteered to take part. Participants of the recorded study 

were asked to listen through headphones.   

Information was gathered using a 6 point Likert scale questionnaire which asked people to score 

their experience from 1 (not at all) to 6 (extremely - more than at any time).  This questionnaire was 

an amalgamation of several questionnaires used in previous studies to measure ASC (mostly using 

hallucinogens).  The questionnaires were a version of the OAV by Dittrich et al., (1998-2010) adapted 

from the original by Studerus et al (2010), the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ) Hood, 

(2003) Revised by MacLean et al (2012) and additional questions relating to health and wellbeing 

were added by myself. The 65 questions asked were grouped within the following domains. Anxiety, 

Positive Mood, Experience of Unity, Spiritual Experience, Insightfulness, Disembodiment, Impaired 

Control and Cognition, Imagery, Ineffability, Transcendence of Time and Space, Emotional 

Observations and Physical Relaxation. 



Findings

These findings provide further understanding of the depth at which live therapeutic sound compared 

to a recording is experienced. On the whole the experience in a live study seemed to be more 

emotionally moving, with participants being able to put their experience into words and 

experiencing joy.  This may be due to the presence of the instruments and that vibrations can be felt 

travelling through the body, whereas the recorded sound seemed to create deeper introspection 

and a deeper ASC. This is rather like comparing being at a live concert to listening to an MP3 

recording – the former is more rousing, and the latter more immersive.  Both groups seemed to 

benefit from the relaxing effect of the sound and lost their usual sense of time and space.

undefined

Key – BORDER = borderline
NS = not statistically significant
* = statistically significant
** = highly statistically significant
*** = extremely statistically significant 

 
Limitations
This research could be improved with a larger study, and a more balanced live-online ratio.  Some of 
the questions asked could be refined further, for example the question ‘physical pain disappeared’ 
was asked and would only apply if there was physical pain in the first place.  Also some participants 
in the live study commented that they could not relax as much as they wanted to because they were 
uncomfortable laying on the floor, so this would need to be addressed in future studies.
Future Implications
I see this research as providing a useful platform for our work at The British Academy of Sound 
Therapy going forward.  Altered State Therapy has been used in conventional healthcare setting for 
mental health conditions as well as drug and alcohol misuse due to the mental relaxation that an 
ASC creates which enables a softening to be experienced, a loosening of the boundaries and of any 
control related issues. This loosening was also observed on the physical level with the relaxation of 
muscles and the draining of physical tension being reported.  I see further research being beneficial 
that explores stress-related imbalances and chronic pain, as well as exploring the enhanced 
creativity that ASC can bring – I intend to undertake more research into these areas in the near 
future.  It would also be beneficial to test other therapeutic sound techniques, such as those for 
invigorating and uplifting the system for example. 

 
Bibliography
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