5 Things to Know Before Starting Listening Therapy

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While there are many different listening therapies out there, I’m going to discuss the one that I have had the most experience implementing in a clinical setting, and just happen to be certified in (I know, fancy, huh?). This program is called Therapeutic Listening ®. (TL)

So you are probably wondering what this whole listening therapy business is and exactly how it works. You are not alone. Most parents have only a vague idea of the program or have only heard it amongst the therapy “buzzwords” fluttering about.

TL is a program that uses music as a “tool” to access the nervous system to help make changes. If you are familiar with sensory integration, or “sensory diets”, then you are already familiar with this idea. Just like we use “heavy work” like push-ups as a tool for regulating a child’s arousal level, a listening program uses music.

First and foremost, music is inherently therapeutic. You can’t deny that music can change your mood. Any remotely emotional moment set to some uplifting music will leave me crying like a baby in a matter of seconds.

So anyway, the music for this program has been specially “modified”, meaning that it is regular music (Think “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, or Mozart, Bach, etc…) that has been run through a filter that highlights the portions of the music that would normally capture someone’s attention.

As you listen to the music, it sounds like someone is messing with the bass and treble knobs on your stereo system. For most of us, this constant change in frequency would drive us crazy, but for the kids listening, it assists them in learning to tune-in to the music. This is essentially the first step in learning to tune-in to what is important in their environment as well.

Children then start to feel more organized due to the music, as it essentially teaches their bodies to know what calm feels like. Being in a regulated state on a frequent basis is supposed to train their body to stay in this state. The hope is that eventually the children will know how to get to that happy place of organization by themselves.

There is much more to the program than this simplified explanation, but for the sake of this post I’ll keep it short.

My main focus is letting parents know what lessons I’ve learned over the years of implementing this program. Here’s what you should probably know before you get started:

1. It’s intensive. 

We are talking 20-30 minutes, twice a day, seven days a week, people. That is a commitment! The program can be adjusted based on your child’s needs. In fact, the whole point of this program is that it has the flexibility to be tailored to each individual.

However, you aren’t going to see the same benefits if your child listens only once a day versus twice a day. Parents ask me all the time if it won’t “work” if they don’t do the program as frequently as suggested. The child will still be reaping the benefits of listening to the music; it’s just that as with all things prescribed in therapy, repetition is the key to make changes within the connections in the brain.

 2. It’s expensive.

Now, every clinic that I’ve been to seems to do this program a little differently. For the most part, parents have to invest in the equipment for the program. This includes specific headphones and an mp3 player or CD player (depending on what media type the clinic uses). Then the music selections typically come from a rental library from the clinic.

There are two choices of headphones from the company that produces this program, Vital Links. One is around $65 dollars, but only comes with a 90 day warranty. These headphones are slightly looser and don’t have as great of a fit on the child’s head. While no one has outright complained about these headphones, the parents that bought these headphones knew that their child wasn’t as particular about what went on their heads.

The other headphones, for $145, are sturdy and more comfortable. And they also come with a 2 year warranty.

And yes, you have to get one of those choices (or find a pair of headphones that meets the exact same specifications). To be honest, you are probably better off just going with one of the Vital Links choices because it’s less hassle in the long run to compare specifications.

Why do you need these specific headphones? Regular headphones are not going to capture the wide range of frequencies that are used in the program. These are the frequencies that force the child to “tune in” to the music. So playing TL music on headphones that don’t reach those frequencies are basically rendering the program useless.

Hopefully, your clinic has the music selections stored on small “chips”, like an SD card in a camera, and these can go into an mp3 player that sits on the child’s headphones. No extra cords or tune belt for a CD player.

Again, it has to be a specific mp3 player that plays the SD cards. Mp3 formats (like on an iPod) cut off at a lower frequency, causing the same problem that I explained with lower quality headphones.

A tip- buy the mp3 player online on Amazon or at a store like Target; it’s much less expensive than through the company.

The music itself is usually rented from a library of selections from the clinic, hospital, or school. Since the selections are changed every two weeks or so, it would be ridiculous of a parent to try to buy each chip at $40 each. The rental fee may be for every selection borrowed, or on a monthly basis.

3. Equipment will break.

I know, I know, and you just shelled out all that money. But listen, more than half the time something breaks. The nice thing is that Vital Links is super nice about replacing things under warranty. If you buy the expensive headphones, they will request that you send them back for repair. This usually takes at least a week or two to get them back.

The cheaper headphones, (if broken within the 90 day warranty) are usually just replaced by a new shipment. However, I’ve also had a client break the headphones just out of the 90 day window, and thus had to buy a whole new set of headphones. It’s a gamble either way.

The mp3 player seems to be the biggest pain. It will do strange things like stop playing in the middle of a song, freeze up completely, or just shut itself off at random times. This player has frustrated me to no end, especially when parents look to me for tech support. (Hey, I’m not the electrical engineer here, sorry.)

But I have spent some time on the phone with Vital Links trying to fix these issues. My first suggestion if your mp3 player goes on the fritz is to hold the power button for around 30 seconds to re-set the player. I’ve also just let the battery drain down until it shuts itself off, then re-charge.

The player is covered for 30 days through Vital Links if you buy it through them. However, if you buy it from a store, opt for the warranty. I’ve had someone go through 3 of these players because they each had some weird defect.

4. The good comes with the bad.

Be prepared for new behaviors to emerge during the program that might be seen as “negative”. The theory behind this is “disorganization before reorganization”. As new skills are learned rapidly due to the program, the child might have a hard time figuring out what to do with it all.

They compare this stage to toddlers and teenagers, perhaps struggling to understand newfound independence, or just a transition period. Check with your child’s OT to determine if your child is in the process of learning to handle new skills, or the music selection might just be a bad fit.

I worked with one young boy that said to his mom, “I don’t understand why I’m sad!” while he was listening to a more emotional music selection. However, he worked through it, gaining more emotional connectedness with his family.

5. There is NO guarantee that this will work for your child.

I’ll admit that I’m mildly skeptic about this program, or any program for that matter. The trouble is that it’s so hard to put a definite pin on what changes a child. You are completing the program within therapy, so its inevitable that other interventions are happening at the same time.

I’ve seen some clients make nice gains, while others didn’t see much change at all. Honestly, it depends on the mother’s reports to know what changes are being made. With such a subjective measuring tool, it can be hard to tell. Some people point out everything that the child does and say, “YES! It’s the listening!” While others say, “Oh, we’ve been working on that forever and maybe now he finally got it.” The excitement varies depending on the observer.

Overall, people who have done the program have been glad they at least gave it a try. Some children have improved processing speeds and overall attention. Some have emerged with new language and have met speech and language goals more quickly than they had in the past. Others have seemed more “in-tune” with the world around them, as if their scope of awareness had widened.

Now, do I think this is program is the end-all be-all? No, of course not. Have you learned nothing about me yet? When I got back from this course I declared “Therapeutic Listening for everyone!!!” and I was pretty darn sure it was going to change everyone’s lives. However, I was quickly humbled when I suggested it with some of my older clients. Of course their parents had already tried it in the past, and most weren’t interested in trying it again.

My overall advice would be that if you can afford the program, or if you have it available, give it a try. I haven’t seen much in the way of negative side effects from attempting the program. If you think about it, even if you have to spend $200 for the equipment, you get to keep it, or possibly sell it back to another parent. Plus, for some people, that’s the equivalent to a few co-pays in therapy for a program you get to do intensively at home. It might just be worth your time, money, and efforts.

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About TheAnonymousOT

Pediatric Occupational Therapist
This entry was posted in Insider Information, Lessons Learned, Occupational Therapy and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to 5 Things to Know Before Starting Listening Therapy

  1. Sarah says:

    I had a good experience with helping a family decide if they had the time for the program before they spent the cash!

    I suggested the program for the child, and the family initially mentioned hesitancy due to cost concerns; the clinic did not offer a library of music, so everything—headphones, music, CD player–had to be out of pocket. They really wanted to do it, but they were going to spend about $200 just to get started. Another therapist suggested to me that I give them a home exercise program from the Core Concepts book, which of course is a bunch of vestibualr exercises by the same organization that does the most common therapeutic listening program. I gave them two weeks, and asked how often they had been doing the program, and it turns out it was like 3-4x a week. This experience led the mom to her own conclusion about the fact that they just didn’t have the time to do the listening program at this point–which was exactly why the other therapist suggested this to me.

    I think suggesting brushing or another DAILY exercise program for a few weeks can help parents determine their readiness to use the listening program, which sort of takes the load off the therapist; I feel like the parents want us to give them the 100% green light about doing the program, when in reality we can’t decide for them whether or not they have the time for the program.

  2. Loretta says:

    I am also certified in the same therapeutic listening program as you! (only since September) I have used it with my daughter. Her teachers have seen great improvements with her attention, organization… SUCCESSS!!! I am also loaning it to the school my kids attend (which is the same school I provide therapy services to…) They are trying it with two students (a small sample to start with and get used to…) (one is autistic and the other non-verbal – to put it briefly). We have seen great results with them as well! Lots of great things! Now if I could only get the schools or coop to purchase it! And yes it is a commitment and yes someone does need to purchase it! There are many students that could benefit from it. but who to implement it from one school to another school? And the other hard part is who will implement the other parts of the program to make it “stick”??? (like core strengthening, etc…..) Realistically, I cannot be there every day – I go to 5 different schools… I figure if I can get them to do something for 15-20 minutes 2-3x/week for the “exercise” part, then we’re doing pretty good (especially when you compare it to the nothing they get now…) I am introducing these parts in small steps…. once teachers see that it does work, it is easier to talk them into doing more….

    So yes, I do understand the risk involved in purchasing it. That is why I took one for the team and purchased it myself in order to prove that it can work. I was lucky enough to have one of my other schools willing to purchase it (although they have not yet done it…so we’ll see…) BUT the tricky part was having to decide which chips to purchase since they did not want to buy the whole library. Well, how am I supposed to know which music chips will work on which kiddos at which times!?!?!?!? Man alive! If I could do that kind of predicting, I’d be in Vegas and NOT North Dakota!!!

    Anyways, thank you for letting me vent… I love your posts!!

    • Wow, I’m so glad to hear of your success with the program! Yes, it is a tricky program to make sure that the appropriate follow through is there, even if you aren’t there to supervise it all the time! And yes, I also understand about the chips. I was lucky to be able to order just about every chip for our library at our clinic. I decided I wanted all of them because one would do absolutely nothing for one child, but be the most amazing chip for another child. You really just have to roll the dice for some children, and hopefully you find something that works. I absolutely love your comment about predicting which chip would work… I feel like that can be an issue in a lot of what we do as OTs! If only we knew exactly what would work all the time! I can wish, right? Anyway, thanks for your comment!

      • Roll the dice? You mean there isn’t a science to figuring out which chips for which kid, you just try “stuff” until something works… or not? Sorry to sound so skeptical, I’m just trying to understand how the program works. I’m thinking of trying one and trying to compare The Listening Program, Therapeutic Listening, et al.

        Can you give an example or typical range of how long one would use this program and how much it would cost with the chip rentals and all? I realize it will vary but trying to get a general sense. Thanks.

  3. Sarah says:

    I’m a special needs teacher and I’d like to take the online http://www.vitallinks.net/pages/Online-January-19-20,-2014.php course that would allow me to buy the modified cds for my daughter (we dont have any trained local OTs in our area). Assuming they’d let me in?
    We’ve had great OT services for 5 years but since i’d be implementing it all anyway and our OT recently moved away (but she thinks it would be suitable)………i figure the $365 online class and then the $500 equip might be more beneficial than having OT appts every 3 weeks when we already have a lot of other specialists. Any thoughts? Ive been able to learn and implement a lot of other therapies.

  4. Hilary says:

    We purchased the headphones and 4 mp3s, so we are more than $300 invested and it ruined my son. The first time he listened for 18 minutes and then vomited. We dropped it to 5 minutes and eventually got up to 9 minutes….he screams and cries like I’m torturing him (he’s 6 1/2) He has become violently angry and his behavior is out of control….never was this bad before. We have been advised to stop the therapy and I feel like the worst mom on the planet for putting him through a month of hell….and who knows how many more months of corrective therapy. I can only pray that my sweet son returns. I think it is totally irresponsible to put these types of therapies out there with very little research or evidence based studies to support the claims. I’m telling everyone I know because I would hate to see another family go through what we have gone though. We all want the best for our children and this definitely made me realize he is not a lab rat to be experimented with…….potentially dangerous side effects in my opinion. When I told him we were done with this therapy, he literally cried tears of joy. Poor kid! Broke my heart.

    • I’m sorry you had such a lousy experience. Maybe it would have gone better with a good provider. I did it (myself) with a really great therapist who combined it with other methods and carefully selected the music, and I had great results – this is after a different, less gentle music therapy method was disastrous similar to what you describe. I think it just needs to be done right. And obviously if it makes a kid miserable for even one session that’s a sign to stop and reevaluate. A good provider would never have let it get that bad.

    • I’m sorry you had such a lousy experience. Maybe it would have gone better with a good provider. I did it (when I was a teen) with a really great therapist who combined it with other methods and carefully selected the music, and I had great results – this is after a different, less gentle music therapy method was disastrous similar to what you describe. I think it just needs to be done right. And obviously if it makes a kid miserable for even one session that’s a sign to stop and reevaluate. A good provider would never have let it get that bad.

  5. Aradhana Kaul says:

    Does anyone have any idea about the advantages of the TLP over Tomatis method and vice- versa.

    • I’m a TLP provider. I’d say the main, HUGE advantage is that TLP can be done from home at much, much lower cost. It’s less intense and somewhat less personalized, but the lower cost and freedom of location means much more people can access it, and it doesn’t take up so much time (I think most kids/families can hardly afford traveling to a Tomatis center for daily therapy! We can’t stop our lives for this.) If you want to know more about it, feel free to contact me via my website: waystheylearn.wix.com/home

  6. Lisa says:

    Hi there anonymous OT, I’m a Desperate Mum about three days into the programme. As I live a long way from OT services, I have bought a chip library, player and headphones..ouch!!! All up – over $500. So far, I’ve had almost no resistance to the twice daily music. The second day though was pretty awful with several lengthy tantrums, however they could have been fatigue or stress related.

    Thinking of the big commitment of twice daily listening and brushing….tomorrow it’s back to school, and I’m still not quite sure how we are going to get it done in the early morning chaos. Wish me luck. Thanks for the interesting post.

    • Sarah says:

      Please be patient with it. I completed the course about 6 months ago. The end results were great and has made a drastic change in my son. But everything got worse before it got better. Many times I wanted to quit, but luckily our therapist kept encouraging us and let us know that it could get worse before better. We are now thinking about doing it with our other children.

      Listen to your motherly instinct. You will know if it is right for you

      • Lisa says:

        Well….it’s over six months down the track! I slogged on with increasing tantrums and emotional boil over until April, and then gave up. Who knew…..April was amazing. This little boy who was fractious, sad, depressed, aggressive and occasionally violent was a different kid. Calm, a lot less reactive, kind and thoughtful, but most of all, actually HAPPY. Can you see where this is going? By the end of April, the old miserable child had returned along with the intense family disharmony he causes. It took a few weeks to really get that it must have been the music and the wilbarger brushing. So, literally, with kicking and screaming, we restarted at the beginning of June. It took nearly a month for us to begin seeing his emotions even out. It works. It actually works. There was an awful lot of heartache involved in persisting, but I’m so glad I did. Pretty sure he is too. Life is just so different for everyone in our home now. Lisa x

  7. Didi says:

    I am confused. What is the most effect system I can purchase as a parent, headphones and all ? The OTs we went to completely missed his listening deficiencies, so I am frustrated and want to implement a program on my own.

  8. Sally says:

    Is it possible to get certified as a non-OT professional? Also, what are the “rules” around what the child can do when listening to the headphones? We’ve had pretty good success in the past and we’ve come to a point in his school life where we need to re-introduce the headphone 🙂 We’ve started doing a 15 minute Quick Shift during the breakfast, but my child loves to read at breakfast. Can he listen and read (or draw for that matter) ?

    • Kelly says:

      Sally, I’m no expert, but I’ve been researching this program as recommended by my son’s OT, and I read on the Vital Sounds website (the FAQ page) that kids can play and do creative activities (like draw, color, play with blocks, crafts) while they listen, but not unproductive play (like lining up cars into rows) or watching TV/playing video games. My guess based on what I’ve read is reading isn’t a good idea because IMO you need to tune out music in order to read. Good luck!

    • Yes, there are other related fields that can get certified (I am TLP certified as a special education teacher) The child can do anything that doesn’t distract them from the listening, no screen time, no eating, no reading. Drawing is fine, coloring, painting, sensory play, simple toys that don’t require a lot of thought.

  9. Pingback: The Power of Sound: A Therapy Worth Listening To? » Pursuit of Research

  10. Lorena Wingard says:

    Hello Anonymous OT,
    I have a severely disabled 13 year old girl who has been making slow progress in every aspect of her life. She is non ambulatory, non verbal and has an intellect of a 2 year old, which for us is a gift since she was not supposed to make it pass 3 months and have no awareness at all.
    She has been trying to integrate her senses for a while now and it getting better very slowly: she is now able to use her vision and hearing together. She is trying to look at her hands as well..This is emerging. In the last year, her CVI has improved considerably.
    She wears hearing aids (50% loss bilateral) she has a streamer that conects to her ipad (bluetooth) and pairs to the hearing aids.
    Here is the question: Would this work as a headphone? would it reach the appropriate frequencies?
    I can have the hearing aids adjusted.
    Is just that she does not tolerate headphones but she is fine with the hearing aids.
    I feel this is perfect timing to start a therapeutic listening program and give her the tools to hopefully make more and faster improvements integrating her senses.
    I do appreciate the opportunity to ask for your input.
    Lorena Wingard
    San Clemente, California

  11. cheryl says:

    is this therapt good for a 4 year old?

  12. Jim says:

    Curious…….Just found out about this program as it is being introduced to my neighbor who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease and has limited verbal ability and other issues such as difficulty in balancing himself. He is in his 60’s. Looks as if you are introducing this program primarily to young children with behavioral or cognitive problems. So what about adults? And my main question: There has been no mention that I can find about hearing acuity. Should not people who consider this program first have their hearing tested to determine the range of hearing ability before entering into such a program? I seems to me that limited hearing range would preclude one’s ability to derive the maximum benefit from this program.

  13. Would this program be applicable to my 18 year son, or is it geared toward younger kids? He is diagnosed with ADD/Aspergers Syndrome, social deficits and Executive Functioning issues. In spite of these challenges, he is very bright and has done decently well at school. He is going off to college in the Fall and I was hoping this program might help ‘re-organize’ his brain to improve these issues (especially since I won’t be there to prompt him once he is on his own.)

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