Dolphin Assisted Therapy: acoustic waves that heal - psychology - 2023



The dolphin is a peculiar animal characterized by its intelligence, its sociability, its character, its creativity and its lifestyle. But this cetacean is not interesting simply because of its iconic looks or ingenuity.

Among all its peculiarities, the transmission of acoustic waves (sonar) stands out, used to "see" what is around them, to communicate ... and, for some time, also to offer therapy. Specifically, something called Dolphin Assisted Therapy.

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The sonar of dolphins

Acoustic waves have been carved by the evolution of dolphins to allow them to interact with a medium in which the naked eye has access to a very limited amount of information due to the lack of light.

These waves are used by dolphins to see, since they interpret the echo produced in the objects hit by these waves. But sonar is also essential in communication, and its sound-producing device uses frequencies 4.5 times higher than those of the human being and emits 4 times more information per unit of time than we do.

These animals produce both hisses to communicate and clicks to orient themselves, all this range of sounds is known as echolocation and it is what makes them unique therapists.

The sea therapists

The Florida-based Aquatought Foundation has been researching the consequences of sonar for patients for years. Its founder, David Cole, offers a scientific explanation for the physiological changes that these waves produce in humans.

It reveals that sonar is of such power that it could cause a phenomenon known as cavitation (formation of vapor-filled cavities within a moving liquid). These bubbles form in the sea and are very fleeting, but reach temperatures 5500 ºC, this manages to alter the membrane potential of the nerve cell terminals in humans, producing changes in our cells and tissues.

The results of their research indicate that the effect of these waves in contact with the human being produces a synchronization of the cerebral hemispheres, (which start to emit waves of similar frequency and phases) and a neurological response similar to that which occurs in states of anesthesia. That is, a brain activity appears in which alpha waves predominate, just as it occurs in states of relaxation. On the other hand, when in a state of concentration the electrical activity produced by the brain is mainly beta waves.

The specificity of this effect and its benefits have led to various attempts to artificially reproduce its therapeutic impact. Musical productions have been developed that try to imitate the echolocation of the dolphin, and it has also gone a step further by creating a device called cyberfyn, which through virtual reality aims to copy the effect of sonar.

Dolphin Assisted Therapy

The therapeutic session revolves around the application of sonar in different parts of the body. This is complemented by various activities between the child and the dolphin that enhance their relationship and create a bond, such as feeding the dolphin, performing motor exercises or games with rings and balls.

For the application of sonar, the patient remains floating in the water (a life jacket is used and the collaboration of a trained therapist), while the dolphin applies its sonar to different parts of the body.

Children are the ones who derive the greatest benefit from this experience since their brain structures are more plastic and modifiable than those of an adult. Sonar emits electromagnetic sound waves that stimulate the entire central nervous system, connecting neurons that are less active than normal. This effect is crucial in the treatment of autism, one of the disorders to which this therapy has been applied the most.

It has also been used in patients with a chronic and / or terminal disease because it improves immunological activity and causes the release of endorphins, which act on pain and mood.