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Healing With Music Relaxation Therapy

We first got in touch with Harry Henshaw, a mental health and addiction counselor and musician, because C.R. is making some guided visualization MP3s and needed some relaxing background music. After searching quite a few weeks for music that was pleasant to listen to and effective but subtle enough not to dominate the spoken word, she found Enhanced Healing, Harry Henshaw’s web site.

Originally, Harry was a philosophy student. After a part time job working in a half-way house for people with mental illness, his life plans underwent a dramatic change. He decided to commit to helping others.

After he received his doctorate in Human Development and Counseling, he began working in a rehab program. As he began learning about drug and alcohol addiction, he developed his own insights into treatment and began to incorporate tools such as NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), hypnosis, and music in his work with clients.

We don’t really have experience with NLP (and very little with traditional hypnosis) but we enjoy creating and listening to guided visualizations and we often use a variety of relaxation techniques, especially progressive relaxation and breath work. We frequently use relaxing music. We tried one of Harry’s sleep recordings—it was definitely effective! 

Welcome, Harry. Tell us how a bit how you began using music in therapy.

 I discovered years ago that using relaxation music made therapy and some of the techniques I use, including NLP (neuro linguistic programming) and hypnosis, even more powerful. After using different types of relaxation music recordings I eventually became dissatisfied with all of them. I’m also a musician with an intense love of music, so I started to experiment with different kinds of compositions. I soon discovered a type of relaxation music that helped people to experience a very deep state of relaxation, go into trance quicker and also achieve much more beneficial and powerful results from their hypnotic work.

While my relaxation music was initially developed for my hypnotic practice I also use it in my individual and group counseling sessions. During these sessions I will play the music at an ambient level so that the music creates a relaxed background but isn’t distracting. People soon lose conscious awareness of the music and focus on the work that they came there to do. It has been my experience that until they try it, most counselors and therapists do not yet understand how powerful relaxing music can be when used as a therapy tool.

After years of working with music in counseling, I believe that it is the design of my music that causes the beneficial effect for the listener. First, there is the actual structure of the musical composition. It seems that having long, sustained chords or voices, approximately 12 to 15 seconds in duration, with slow transitions between the chords works best. This causes the body to slow down and begin to relax and as and eventually attain a deeper state of relaxation. The music is initially a physical experience.

The second component of my music is the binaural audio tones that have been mixed into the music. The binaural tones, through a process referred to as “entrainment” or “frequency following”, gently directs the body to make more of the brain wave frequencies necessary for either deep relaxation or sleep. The recordings for deep relaxation contain binaural audio tones within the theta range while the recordings for sleep contains binaural audio tones within the delta range.

Our brains emit certain frequencies during the day, 24 hours a day.  While we are awake, alert and working, our brain emits more energy in the beta range, at approximately 14 cycles per second.  When we start to relax and even meditate our brains starts to produce more alpha frequencies, from 7 to 14 cycles per second.  As we start to drift off to sleep our brain moves into the theta range, generating more 4 to 7 cycles per second.  When we eventually go to sleep our brains is producing more delta frequencies than any other, between 1 to 4 cycles per second.  I mix the music with theta frequencies, 5 cycles per second, for helping a person to relax and delta frequencies, 1 cycle per second, for helping them to sleep.

It’s amazing that although we can sense some of the changes in frequencies, many are quite subtle, yet the effects are very real. Tell us about the benefits of using/listening to music in a therapeutic manner.

My clients tend to be mostly on the resistant and defensive side.  I have found that a person is more open to a suggestion after using the relaxation music.  When an individual is able to experience a state of deep relaxation he is much less defensive and much more open to considering and accepting suggestions for change.

Can you describe a successful outcome you’ve had using your music?

One particular client comes to mind.  He was extremely resistant to treatment, even defiant. I decided to go with the resistance.  What I did first was to just work on making rapport with him, small talk, talking about anything.  While we were having our conversations I had the music playing at an ambient level.  It was apparent that he was becoming more relaxed and less defensive as we talked.  At some point I told him I would be leaving the room for a while and asked him if he wanted to listen to the music.  He agreed, so I gave him headphones. After our session resumed, he said, without prompting, that he liked the music, felt very relaxed and wanted to know if he could listen to it later, after the session.  I gave him a copy of the music.

Upon returning for his next session he reported that he liked the music and listened to it often, especially in the evenings.  I next made the suggestion that I had another recording, same music but with positive affirmations for confidence and that I would like for him to listen to it and give me his opinion. He agreed.

After about 20 minutes I stopped the recording to check in with him. The client reported though he found the positive affirmations a bit difficult to listen to, he enjoyed them. I gave him a copy of the recording to take home and asked him to evaluate the recording for me.  After a few days he reported that after listening to the recording he felt more comfortable in his own skin and felt that he had a more positive outlook about his life. Over the next few weeks he appeared to have a brighter affect and was more positive and less defensive especially with the recovery coaches at the center where I work.  After he was discharged he continued to use the recording and began to use positive affirmations in general to help him work on his self esteem. I followed up with him and found that over time his motivation continued to increase and eventually he decided to work in a treatment program himself.

You really seem to use an interesting variety of tools and techniques. How do you use NLP and hypnosis in your work with clients?

I use it to help people change what they think, especially about themselves.  Poor self esteem is the core issue for most people with addictions. It is always about feeling not good enough or feeling like a failure. Like many in the field, I believe that the basis of a person’s poor self esteem is rooted in their past, or more precisely, in their memory or story of the past.

What NLP and hypnosis helps people do is quite simple—it helps people reframe and transform their experiences. After time, they are able to let go of the past (and all of the damage that it has done and continues to do) as well as let go of their own guilt and shame. This isn’t about forgetting but rather an opportunity to create a new and healthier perspective on their past.  Eventually the client stops being stuck.

Once the process of letting go and letting God begins, NLP and hypnosis also helps a person start creating a new future, a future that they truly want, that they have been unable to achieve. One technique that works well is called Future Self. In Future Self a person creates through imagery what they want their life to be like, say in one year.  By helping them to create a picture of what they want and then by helping them to step into their new future in trance, they find they are able to create a positive future. For addicts, this future will also be devoid of drugs and alcohol.  The beauty of using NLP and hypnosis is that the counselor does not have to know or deal with the content of a client’s problems to help them change. Such techniques reduce the resistance and defensive nature of many clients.

Thanks so much Harry Henshaw for talking with us.  You can listen to some of his relaxing music online, at Enhanced Healing.

Healing With Music Relaxation Therapy

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2011). Healing With Music Relaxation Therapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2018, from


Last updated: 20 Sep 2011
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 20 Sep 2011
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