The Mind-Voice Connection

From an evolutionary point of view, human communication relies heavily on oral interaction. People speak and listen, attempting to understand each other by combining the content of speech, the tone of voice, volume, emotion, and speed of diction with body language and facial expressions. Our voices play an enormous role in how we exist in the world, and define not only our outward communications, but also the way we process, express, and explore things internally. These two areas are deeply interrelated – our external expression and communications may shape our internal feelings and understandings of the world, while our internal dynamics may impact our relationships, communications, outward appearance, and so on. The intrinsic link between outward expression and internal processing is a major aspect of what makes the voice such an incredible healing tool.

Literally and metaphorically, the voice is often associated with empowerment. Phrases such as “a voice for the voiceless” and “the voice of the people” illustrate the symbolic link between speaking and power. When someone is described as not having a voice, this is synonymous with not having a say, or not having the ability to influence, educate, or contribute to a conversation. Though there certainly are cases where voices of oppressed groups are systematically silenced or ignored, the focus of this article is on the effect of perceived power and that perception’s relationship to the voice.

When we feel powerful, it is easier for us to use our voices in assertive, peaceful, and authentic ways. It is easier to ask for what we need, be clear about what we do not like, tell our stories, and be open about our feelings. It is easier to be honest.

When we do not feel powerful, we are too afraid, frustrated, or disillusioned to use our voices authentically. It is harder to be honest, and easier to use sarcasm, name-calling, guilt trips, or blame games. When we do not feel like we are having any impact in a conversation, or when we are afraid of the consequences of honest communication, we are more likely to react with agitation than if we feel we can meaningfully bring change.

Because these perceptions of power exist in a reciprocal, interrelated relationship with the voice, it is possible to use the voice as an empowerment tool. By practicing authentic expression and verbalizing honestly our challenges and successes, we have the capacity to start feeling more powerful, and, in turn, facilitating future authentic communications. Whether through everyday interactions, singing, spoken word poetry, or other vocal exercises, our voices allow us to realize our power and tear down obstacles that stand in the way of our own understandings of ourselves as capable, important individuals.

The Voice as a Means of Self-Expression

The connection between the voice and self-expression may seem self-explanatory – indeed, using the voice is a key aspect to any form of verbal communication. However, there is an important distinction between ordering a meal and exploring the voice as a means of empowerment, affirmation, and healing analogous to the difference between expressing hunger or telling someone the time versus expressing sorrow or telling someone your story. In music therapy, therefore, the voice is regarded as an important tool for self-expression not only for its connection to verbal communication but because of its ability to explore and convey inner anxieties, emotions, experiences, memories, and identity.

Self-expression is crucial. It is key to communicating how we feel, our thoughts, opinions, needs, and wants. It allows for the release of emotions. It highlights individuality while allowing us to share, bond, relate, and empathize with others. In music therapy, therapists combine the importance of self-expression with the power of music to further dig deep into the individual’s emotional, physical, and spiritual experiences. Music opens the door to important verbal discussions as well as, and this will be the main topic of discussion in this article, singing in order to effectively empower and heal individuals through the use of the voice.

Singing can be a powerful, whole-body, emotional experience, and through encouraging individuals to sing, music therapists hope to help people get in touch with and articulate their feelings through an experience that is both creative and often pleasurable. Though singing may make individuals feel nervous or vulnerable, as many have difficulty overcoming the fear of sounding bad or making mistakes, working through this anxiety can have positive effects in itself, as often parts of the self are projected onto the voice and treatment of the voice. The hopeful end result of this process is the use of the voice as a way of empowering a person’s expressive and self-reflective capacities while providing them with a coping mechanism which draws on the individual’s inner resources in order to work through trauma, stress, anxiety, identity crises and insecurity.

By combining singing with music, individuals have the opportunity to be verbally expressive while being supported by music and all of its positive effects. Cognitive science has demonstrated that music engages the body and brain in ways that little else can, lighting up emotional, physical, and linguistic centres. The music’s character, therefore, has the ability to evoke emotions and memories, which can provide individuals with the opportunity to explore different aspects of the themselves and their experiences. By engaging the creative self in the growth and healing process, singing gives individuals the opportunity for holistic empowerment through its ability to promote self-expression.