Last year I did a professional development course in the Estill Voice Training method. Aside from being a mental health blogger, I’m also a singing teacher and wanted to brush up on my skills after a break from teaching.
Estill is a program designed to develop vocal skills by deconstructing the process of vocal production. Developed by the late Jo Estill, a speech pathologist and opera singer, the method helps singers better understand, control and manipulate the singing process. It incorporates anatomy and video imaging of the vocal chords to help participants truly appreciate and understand what’s happening when they sing.
I found the workshop enlightening and it give me insight into some areas that had previously confused me. Even though I had studied singing at a tertiary level, and had taught students for several years, much of what I had learnt about voice training and teaching (aside from music theory) was vague, non-scientific or outright wrong! For example, many teachers will tell you to “sing with your diaphragm.” This always confused me as I didn’t know how to access my diaphragm specifically and tell it what to do.
In Estill I learnt that the diaphragm has no nerve endings so it’s no surprise I had trouble feeling it or telling it how to behave! When it comes to the breathing mechanism there’s a whole lot of nonsense that gets taught and this course helped me sort fact from fiction.
There were a lot of facepalms and jaw drops in the workshop as many of us who had taught previously had to acknowledge that some of our methods had been wrong, confusing or even at times potentially damaging to our students.
The facilitator said shock was a common theme in her workshops and that it was really hard for some people to admit that, after many years of teaching, they may have been wrong about some of their methods. Fortunately most people, once presented with the science and the vocal chord videos can come around and start to embrace the new information.
I’ll admit it wasn’t easy! I felt like a douche and really annoyed with myself for not having enrolled in this course earlier but I knew I had to swallow my pride and accept that it’s life! Sometimes we are presented with new information and it’s up to us to either embrace it or choke on our pride.
When it comes to mental health I see a lot of organised denial happening despite the revelations of new scientific information. Take for example recent insights into the digestive system and the importance of gut health. There’s now mountain of research studies that have debunked the low serotonin model of depression. Instead, we’re finding that depression is often a symptom of chronic inflammation in the gut.
But how many psychiatrists check their patients gut heath (where a high percentage of neurotransmitter chemicals are actually made) and prescribe dietary changes? Do they even study this in their training? As this psychiatrist explains she had just one hour of nutrition training in her 10 years of formal medial training.
Fortunately she had the balls to admit her training was missing certain elements and did some additional research into nutrition and holistic therapy. Now she’s running holistic mental health courses that teach people how to truly take charge of their health. Yay for Dr Brogan!
Another interesting group I found who are presenting mental health experts with important information is the UK based Council for Evidence-Based Psychiatry. They provide evidence of the damaging effects of psychiatric drugs and treatments to the people and institutions that can make a difference. In particular they’re concerned that there are no long-term studies to prove the safety and efficacy of anti-depressants and would like to see better regulation and research in this area.
If you’re a doctor or mental health professional reading this would you like your patients to be long-term guinea pigs to potentially harmful drugs? Or would you prefer to use drugs as a short-term tool to help transition patients through crisis and then help them develop the tools to cultivate health for the long haul?
It’s not always easy to embrace new information when it arrives but I believe being open and receptive to it can help us be more effective in our various careers.