Boston Ability Center - Making Fun and Function Go Hand In Hand

Boston Ability Center - Making Fun and Function Go Hand In Hand

News - February 2012

Therapeutic Listening

by Eileen Gordon, M.S., OTR/L

Therapeutic Listening® is a sound-based intervention that may be used as a part of sensory integration treatment. Therapists trained in sensory integration techniques use a variety of vestibular (movement), proprioceptive (input to the muscles and joints), and tactile activities to improve a child’s motor skill development, attention, level of alertness, and ability to interact meaningfully with his/her environment. Sheila Frick, OTR, developed Therapeutic Listening® based on the theory that sound is the “missing link” in the treatment of sensory processing disorders.


What is Listening?

In order to understand why your child’s therapist may recommend use of the Therapeutic Listening® program, it is important to first clarify what is meant by “listening”.

Sheila Frick provides the following definition:

“Listening is a whole-brain, whole-body experience that connects us to the world outside of ourselves and is the most basic precursor to interaction, speaking, reading, and writing. Listening relates closely to arousal, attention, focus, vigilance, and concentration, and it helps us to modulate and integrate sensation. Listening also plays a part in keeping us oriented in the physical world of space and time. Environmental sounds give us a sense of the three-dimensional space we occupy, and the duration of a sound gives us a sense of the passing of time.”

*Frick, S. M., & Young, S.R. (2009). Listening with the Whole Body: Clinical Concepts and Treatment Guidelines for Therapeutic Listening. Madison: Vital Links.

Listening is largely an unconscious process. Throughout the day, we unknowingly monitor our auditory environment, filtering out ambient or background noise and shifting our attention when a salient sound occurs. For instance, when at the office, we tend to ignore the buzzing sound of the lights or overhead fan. We tune in to the sound of a fire alarm or a co-worker speaking by stopping what we are doing, looking to the source of the sound, and responding as needed. Listening, therefore, plays an important role in survival and allows us to socially reference our world.

How Is Therapeutic Listening® Used In Occupational Therapy Treatment?

Children with sensory processing challenges often have a difficult time with listening skills. Use of Therapeutic Listening® coupled with sensory integration treatment may improve the following areas:

  • Attention
  • Organized behavior
  • Self-regulation
  • Postural control
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Praxis (Motor Planning)
  • Fine motor control
  • Visual-motor integration
  • Social skills

Your child’s treating therapist may recommend using Therapeutic Listening® as part of his/her treatment plan. The therapist will conduct structured observations and provide a parent questionnaire to gather information necessary to select appropriate music. Once a starting point has been identified, music will be trialed during a therapy session. The following specialized equipment will be used:

  • Therapeutic Listening® CD or Digital MicroSD Memory Chips with electronically modified music designed to elicit specific physiologic responses.
  • Portable CD or Sansa Clip Music player
  • Sennheiser HD500A or Pro-50 Headphones with “open ear system” (child can listen to music and hear conversational language around him/her)
  • Tune Belt (allows for greater mobility when using a portable CD player)

Your child will use the recommended CD or music chip at home for 30 minutes twice a day over a period of two weeks. New music will be introduced every two weeks. Your child’s therapist may ask you to track changes in your child’s attention, sleep patterns, activity level, behavior, etc.

Therapeutic Listening® is a valuable tool that can help children to meet their therapy goals. Consult with your child’s therapist to learn how it may be used as part of the treatment process. For more information on Therapeutic Listening®, visit