A Brief History of Voice Movement Therapy
Voice Movement Therapy (VMT) is an Expressive Therapy of the voice founded in 1993 by Englishman Paul Newham who took his inspiration from the life and work of Alfred Wolfsohn, a German Jew who, as a medic in the trenches of World War I, had the experience of hearing the incredible variety, range and dynamics of the human voice in extremis. After escaping from a collapsed trench in which numbers of his comrades were buried alive, Wolfsohn suffered what is now known as post-traumatic stress disorder in the form of constant aural hallucinations; he still heard his comrades screaming. He sought relief by enlisting the aid of the psychotherapists and singing teachers of his day but, like many pioneers of new therapeutic disciplines, he could find no one to help him and so endeavored to cure himself. In his case, these struggles took the form of reproducing the sounds he had heard in the hopes of, if not exorcising them and the shadowy figures they represented, then at least learning to draw expressive strength from his demons and thus to transform them. During this process, he created a form of therapeutic voicework through which he sought to explore all the parameters of the human voice. He later took this healing work to others, building up a teaching practice in London, to which he had moved, and demonstrating his work both within and outside of the United Kingdom.
After Wolfsohn’s death in 1962, his pupil, actor and director Roy Hart, took this work into the theater and became part of the sixties movement spearheaded by innovators such as Peter Brook, Antonin Artaud and Jerzy Grotowski who explored theatre without words. Hart made his own productions and founded a troupe and school, which he then located in France. Hart died tragically in a car accident in 1975 but his theatre-based work continues to be internationally taught.
Paul Newham, born in the year that Wolfsohn died, first experienced this type of work from Enrique Pardo, a member of Hart’s troupe and a gifted teacher and workshop leader. Newham subsequently went on to combine the therapeutic voicework of Wolfsohn with the theatrical work of Hart, also incorporating:
- A form of massage, manipulation, and compression which took inspiration from the work of Wilhelm Reich, but which Newham focused specifically on expanding respiration for singing and speaking and which could be employed while the client was actively engaged;
- Therapeutic principles based on the active imagination, archetypal and sub-personality work conceived of by C.G. Jung, which Newham directly applied to vocal work; and,
- A way of listening to the various components of the voice which built on the creative listening techniques both of Wolfsohn and of otolaryngologist Paul Moses, one of Wolfsohn’s strongest supporters and a contemporary of Jung, which Newham further developed through the delineation of ten identifiable vocal components and the concept of the malleable, flexible vocal tube.
Newham began his work with non-verbal populations by helping them form a communicative facility based on affective or expressive sound and theatrical enactments. He then extended his work to others, seeking to explore, expand and strengthen their vocal abilities through a particular set of vocal and movement principles for making the voice more flexible, durable and versatile, and through creative, therapeutic and enactment principles for transforming one’s issues and dilemmas from problems in living, to ways of releasing trapped energy and resolving or reconciling such material.
This work is currently being applied and expanded by registered members of the International Association for Voice Movement Therapy (IAVMT), whose details you will find on our Find a Practitioner page.
For those seeking more information on the origins and application of this work, you will find a comprehensive list of books by VMT founder, Paul Newham, on our Resources page.
© 2000 Anne Brownell, MA, LMHC, VMTR.