Can a traumatic event change a person’s voice?
Elisa Monti is a voice psychologist. Her field of research focuses on the relationship between psychological trauma and voice change.
Below are her explanations on the topic, through an interview:
Question: Tell me a little about your career so far and this specific goal you have set for yourself
Dr. Monti: My purpose in life is to contribute to understanding the relationship between psychological trauma and sound. This field has not been created yet and the search will take time. That is why I founded voiceandtrauma.com, a platform through which experts can talk about this topic and exchange ideas. Currently, I call myself a researcher and performance therapist.
What is a trauma?
I think the conceptualizations and terminology for trauma have changed over the years. Trauma can be described as a particularly disturbing, emotional event that happens to a person with potentially long-term effects. Trauma is not necessarily the event itself, but it is the way the nervous system responds to the event.
I think the hallmarks of trauma are several, but it is basically a change in one’s ability to deal with everyday situations in the same way as one was treated before the trauma. Connecting with others can become difficult. This man sees himself, but also the world, differently from before.
Question: "How did it first occur to you that there might be a link between trauma and sound?"
I was once fascinated by the connection of the past and someone and voice when I attended the Academy of Arts. I remember watching my peers sing beautifully and their voice or mood changed when they were in an awkward situation, for example when a stern teacher appeared in front of them or in whose subject they had difficulty. Suddenly their voices were unable to do what they normally did. No one was interested in discussing this possible connection with me.
How does trauma affect the voice?
This is my favorite question as it is the question around which my passion revolves! The link between trauma and sound is widely discussed, but not yet sufficiently researched.
A possible link may exist in how trauma affects the physiology and physiological systems of the vocal apparatus. The sound is incredibly complex. When we speak, several steps occur, starting with breathing, then to phonation (vibrating vocal folds) to resonance (the cavities of the oral tract change shape when we speak) to articulation (e.g. lip movement). Also, the brain is involved in all of these mechanisms at different levels. Any of these elements can be affected physiologically indirectly by trauma which in turn can affect the voice.
There are case studies in the pathology of spoken language that discuss the loss of voice after the loss of a loved one, or the development of unexplained voice tension when tension arises between a couple. There have also been reports of people sounding 'choked' when they admit guilt or a secret. I personally find it very interesting when people’s voices change when they talk about themselves compared to the moment they talk about someone else.
There is considerable literature on what we call Psychogenic Voice Disorders that are pathological problems as a result of psychological events - including trauma - in the absence of laryngeal pathology.
I have conducted several preliminary studies myself, where I have largely explored the links between self-reported childhood trauma and violence. They are still in process because they are longitudinal studies.
* Minds Plain article was adapted in Albanian by Tiranapost.al. Reprinting without the permission of the editor is prohibited