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Osteopathy and Voice: A Symbiosis

by Derek Gale(more info)

listed in osteopathy, originally published in issue 20 - May 1997

I am a voice teacher and voice therapist whose work is a combination of vocal and personal development. Last year I started to work with Joyce Vetterlein, the osteopath, and combine my work with osteopathy. This increases the power and the holistic nature of the work as it brings the body and the mind into direct contact. Osteopathic treatment is a method of working with and changing patterns in the body which have both a physical and a psychological origin. Voice work completes the framework within which changes take place. In the voice work progress is enhanced when these patterns are changed and there is therefore a symbiotic relationship between the osteopathy and voice work.

Osteopathy and Voice

The voice work is based on the experience that anyone can learn to sing and develop a beautiful voice and that singing is not an elitist occupation suitable only for the gifted few. Now the work is widening to include people with health problems which are caused by difficulties with breathing and posture.

The sort of health problems that we are now dealing with are chronic physical and psychological ill health caused by early physical or emotional trauma. This can manifest as such things as lower back pain, dizziness, chronic tension, period pains and hyperventilation.

We have also been dealing with more serious problems where our work complements major interventions by allopathic medicine.

Voice Work

Although many people use the voice and describe what they do as voice work the term has no common definition, so I will describe what I do in some detail.

History and Method

Alfred Wolfsohn (1898—1964) was a German Jew who acted as a stretcher bearer in the First World War, where he heard in the dying screams of soldiers the enormous power and range of which the human voice is capable. After the war he dedicated himself to trying to find out if these sounds could be made by people not in extremis and to finding out what the implications of these sounds were. Wolfsohn worked in the areas normally prohibited by voice teachers; that is to say he worked with broken sounds, even encouraging his pupils to scream.

He soon found that in order to help people to free their voices he also had to teach them to discipline their voices. To this end he used a piano as a control and developed what he called a singing lesson in which the teacher listens to the voice of the pupil and directs the pupil on a voyage of discovery into their own voice. By breaking sound he encouraged the pupil to go beyond what they knew about their voices and to explore their unknown voice. In a singing lesson the teacher listens to the pupil’s voice and takes them on a voyage of personal and vocal discovery. By listening to and hearing the inner voice of the pupil the teacher is able to open up areas of the voice which the pupil normally either vetoes or is unaware of.

A simple example of this is a pupil who under guidance is able to scream out loud for the first time and realises that she can make a much bigger sound than she thought she was capable of. When people first hear the true potential of their own voices they are so surprised that they have that power inside them, they become determined to use that power in their everyday lives. This can lead to great increases in self confidence and an increased awareness of the individual’s potential. For performing artists this is accentuated by the increased volume, range and confidence with which they can sing.

Wolfsohn soon realised that the effects of his work were not limited to the purely vocal and that his pupils were affected by the sounds they made on a psychological level. This lead him to his central thesis that the voice is not just a function of a physical organ but a reflection of the whole person and is therefore intimately linked with the personality of the singer as he said, “When I speak of singing I speak not only of an artistic experience but a way to a means of knowing oneself” or as his pupil Roy Hart so succinctly expressed it “The voice is the muscle of the soul”.

Wolfsohn and later Roy Hart were able to develop a method of teaching their pupils to sing with a range of as many as six octaves and to sing in registers not limited by sex or convention; so women found within them their masculine voices and men their feminine voices. These people were not freaks but ordinary people who learned to develop the voice that lies latent within each of us. Not only were they able to sing with increased range and tonal colour, they were also able to find a far greater emotional expressivity in their voices. The psychological effects of this work proved to be enormous and many people who engaged in it, as I did, to try and sort themselves out on a spiritual and psychological level found that they developed a beautiful singing voice as an unexpected side benefit.

In passing, it is worth mentioning that Wolfsohn poo-poohed the idea of tone deafness and many “tone deaf” pupils have learned to sing in tune. When I started I was totally tone deaf but within eight weeks was able to hold a tune.

In the same way as Wolfsohn came to realise that the voice and the personality of the singer were intimately linked, he also realised that the voice and the body of the singer are intimately linked and the development of the voice goes hand in hand with an awareness of the body.

I have been involved in voice work as a form of psychotherapy and self development since 1980. Many of the people who have come to me have had vocal problems and many of these have been people who wanted to sing professionally. I have worked especially with people who thought they could not sing or who had been told that they could not.

In 1995 I invited Joyce Vetterlein, an osteopath who works predominately in the cranial field and who has wide experience of health and healing, to join my regular voice group. This was to see whether the application of her techniques to pupils having singing lessons would help their singing. To our surprise we discovered that not only did the combination of voice work and osteopathy lead to great vocal changes, it also allowed her to make unusual progress in terms of the changes that she was attempting to make in the bodies of her patients. This was especially interesting as some of the singers were people who had previously consulted her independently for osteopathic treatment so that she had an experience of treating them purely with osteopathy to compare with the treatment using osteopathy and voice.

The big difference that occurred when osteopathy was combined with voice was that the immediacy of the voice work meant that the body did not have time to assert its defenses and therefore the changes in physical patterns which the osteopathy was attempting to make could not be so easily prevented. It seems to be the case that while the osteopath is making an invitation to the body to change patterns which have been laid down since birth or before, the body resists changes to these patterns even though they may be dysfunctional and causing pain. Osteopathic treatment attempts to make changes in these patterns and is most successful where the body accepts them and incorporates them into new patterns in the body. It seems that when it is combined with voice work, the body is more easily able to accept these changes. In terms of voice work this is explainable through the fact that the voice and the psyche of the singer are linked.

Case History


This man of 50 has had some singing lessons and can neither sing in tune nor with any conviction. Upon physical examination, Joyce noticed that in addition to him being a hyperventilator, he was showing signs of a cardiac kyphosis which is a localised muscular skeletal problem usually associated with an increased risk of Heart Attack. In the course of the workshop he was able to greatly release the muscular tension which helped his hyperventilation, which in turn allowed him to release the emotional pain that was underlying his symptoms. This was a serious improvement in his physical condition. The improvements were greater than would have been expected if only osteopathy were used because the voice work provided a framework in which the emotional release could be channelled.

However, the physical changes were also reflected on a musical level and he was not only able to hold the tune of his song but also to sing in a way that moved and excited other people in the workshop. Whilst it is true that his singing had been improving, he tended to speak his song rather than sing it – being unable to differentiate between speaking and singing – therefore the improvement in his performance was far greater than I would have expected.

Checking him again last week for the purposes of this article, the improvement in his posture was clearly visible and most noticeable was the fact that those changes had been maintained since the voice workshop two months earlier.

In his singing lessons the improvement was similarly maintained and he made a series of controlled and sweet tenor sounds which were extremely moving.

These sustained changes are particularly remarkable as his father has died since the last voice workshop and one might have expected the inherent stress to have caused a relapse.

Health and Voice Work

The connection between health and voice is really quite simple and easy to understand if we think of the body in terms of energy.

By encouraging people to consciously make all sorts of sound – including many sounds they did not know they could make – new and varied energies are experienced in the body. This enables and encourages change. In general, people resist change and even people who seem to embrace and enjoy change find it difficult to allow and embrace fundamental changes in their psyche and body. When the two treatments – osteopathy and voice – are taken together, so much energy is mobilised that change can be allowed to take place much more easily. It must at this stage be emphasised that this change is under the control of the individual and that the most important aspect of the work is that time is allowed for individuals to talk about and assimilate these changes into their lives. The singing of a song by the pupil has the effect of allowing these changes to be expressed creatively and made concrete.

In the main we do this work in a workshop setting because of the cost involved in individual sessions. However, we also find that while individual sessions are often helpful for those who are too shy to come to a workshop, there is a real benefit to be gained from working in the group as people are helped by hearing others sing and benefit from the feedback of other group members.


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About Derek Gale

Derek Gale is the director of the Gale Centre for Creative Therapy where he does individual work in Humanistic Psychology and Voice work as well as Voice and Body Workshops and Psychodrama residentials. He promotes TA KE TI NA in Britain and is the author or What is Psychotherapy and What is Psychodrama as well as numerous articles and chapters on psychotherapy. He can be reached on telephone: 020-8508 9344.

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