Episode 52: Voice as a Mirror for Inner States

Chris Wells & Emma Nicholson with guest Laura Stavinoha

Release date: February 12, 2024

In episode 52, Chris and Emma talked with Laura Stavinoha, who offers singers and speakers coaching and counseling about the voice and personal development through her company, Use Your Voice. Laura is the author of the book Voice: A Multifaceted Approach to Self-Growth and Vocal Empowerment and editor-in-chief of the Dutch Positive Disintegration website. She will join us in Denver this summer to present her work at the 2024 Dabrowski Congress.

The human voice is a tool for communication, and a reflection of our inner state. Laura discusses how the voice can provide insights into our emotions, stress levels, and personal development. She says our voice is connected to the nervous system and can be influenced by our emotions. When we experience feelings such as nervousness, excitement, or anger, our voice can undergo changes. This connection between emotions and the voice is well-known, as many of us have experienced our voices trembling or becoming shaky when we are anxious or stressed.

We talk about the role of overexcitabilities in the voice. Overexcitabilities are heightened sensitivities and intensities that can manifest in different ways, including in the voice. For instance, individuals with psychomotor overexcitability may have rapid speech patterns or a tendency to talk compulsively. Individuals with imaginational overexcitability may experience rapid shifts in thoughts and ideas during conversation.

Laura describes how the voice can be a symptom of the conflicts and tensions that arise as we strive for personal growth and self-actualization. These conflicts can manifest in our voice—e.g., feeling constricted or unable to express ourselves authentically. Dynamisms are inner forces that can manifest as inner conflicts and tensions that arise during the process of positive disintegration. These conflicts can be reflected in the voice, through hesitations, inconsistencies, or changes in tone.

Laura explains that the autonomic nervous system influences the voice in the same way it influences other bodily functions like heart rate and breathing. Regulating the nervous system through practices like meditation or yoga can have a positive impact on the voice. The human voice can provide valuable insights into our inner state. It can reflect our emotions, stress levels, and personal development. By paying attention to our voice and working on its development, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and enhance our communication with others.

Highlights

00:03:34 How Laura discovered the theory

00:07:34 Laura’s path to authenticity

00:14:23 The importance of purpose

00:17:00 Reflection on developing one’s voice

00:18:39 Do you like the sound of your own voice?

00:22:33: Chris’s voice issues

00:27:11 Tension and the voice

00:28:28 When Laura’s voice failed her

00:30:28 OEs and the autonomic nervous system

00:34:26 How OEs manifest over time

00:37:12 Jamie’s case and ADHD

00:39:45 Overexcitability and neurodivergence

00:42:00 TPD as a liberating theory

00:43:54 Coexistence of unilevel and multilevel dynamisms

00:47:03 Voice as an indicator of well-being

00:51:09 Going beneath the surface

00:55:05 Doing the developmental work

00:56:51 TPD and polyvagal theory

Overall, working on the voice goes beyond simply improving vocal techniques. It involves understanding the connection between the voice and the nervous system, addressing underlying emotional and psychological factors, and developing a holistic approach to voice development.

Bio: Laura Stavinoha is a musician, performer, writer, producer and coach, with the voice at center. She has a master’s degree in musicology and is trained as a classical singer. She has worked as a project manager and business manager in the music industry, while at the same time pursuing a versatile career as a classical singer, singer-songwriter and live looping artist. Through her company use your voice she now offers singers and speakers coaching and counselling about the voice and personal development. Laura is editor-in-chief of the official Dutch website about positive disintegration and affiliated as author with Third Factor magazine. In 2022 she published her book VOICE: A Multifaceted Approach to Self-Growth and Vocal Empowerment.

Resources from this episode

Use Your Voice (Laura’s website)

The book Voice: A Multifaceted Approach to Self-Growth and Vocal Empowerment by Laura Stavinoha (Amazon)

Voice Problems as Signs of Positive Disintegration (Laura’s 2022 Congress presentation on YouTube)

Positieve Desintegratie (in Dutch)

2024 Dabrowski Congress page. Registration opens later this week!

Transcript:

Emma: Our guest today is Laura Stavinoha. She's a musician, performer, writer, producer, and coach, has a master's degree in musicology, and is trained as a classical singer. Through her company, Use Your Voice, she offers singers and speakers coaching and counseling about the voice and personal development. Laura is editor-in-chief of the Dutch Positive Disintegration website, writes for Third Factor magazine, and in 2022 published her book Voice: A Multifaceted Approach to Self-Growth and Vocal Empowerment.

Laura: Hi. Thanks, Emma and Chris, for having me.

Chris: We're so glad to finally meet you. I was first introduced to your work at the 2022 Congress when you submitted a recorded presentation. I remember watching the video and being amazed because I had never thought about overexcitability in terms of voice. It was a whole new perspective.

Laura: Apparently, no one else, as far as I know, has been working with positive disintegration and the voice. So, that is what I spent a great deal of the last couple of years doing, resulting in the video for the Congress and the book that I published.

It's something I work with every day with clients—the voice. I put it in the perspective of overexcitabilities, which always helps a great deal for people to understand themselves better.

Chris: We would love to hear your story of how you discovered the theory and then used it in your work.

Laura: The question is how I got in contact with the theory, right? This is through one of your former podcast guests, Lotte van Lith. She is like me from the Netherlands. We accidentally met on LinkedIn. I was promoting my work, probably some voice workshop. It must have been 2015 or something like that. Lotte was not in my contacts. She saw my message and my promotion, shared it with her audience, and sent me a personal message.

Something about how she wrote it and what she wrote—it struck me. I looked up her website alotofcomplexity.com. At that time, it had this overload of information about positive disintegration. I started reading about overexcitabilities, and the levels, and the dynamisms. I got so caught up. This was something that described what I was going through for many years by then. And I never found the right words for it.

Often, I could not explain to others what I was going through. And here, someone was writing it down. This led me to Positive Disintegration on Wikipedia, and one thing led to another. I started working together with Lotte, I took coaching from her, she took coaching from me for singing and the use of voice. Now, we have a really nice, interesting collaboration.

Chris: She's a keynoter for the 2024 Dabrowski Congress this summer.

Laura: Yes, we're very excited about that.

Chris: Us, too. Well, that's so interesting. You never know when you're going to meet somebody who changes everything for you.

In your story in the book, it's really fascinating to see your own process and journey and how that unfolded. I love in the book how you bring the third factor dynamism to life in a way that is accessible to the reader by saying it's a process of “This is more myself, this is less myself.”

Laura: In my book, I describe one particular area of my life where I experienced positive disintegration. I can say I experienced it in many other ways, but the music part, which is my career, it was so crystal clear to me that, as you say, the third factor was a moving force that was growing, and I was not able to deny that I needed change in my life.

I always wanted to be a musician. It was a strong drive to create as a child. But it had an element of wanting to be seen and gaining recognition. That element was pretty strong. Also, around me, people were like that. Many, many famous artists are like that. And for me, it was one big thing. Like, okay, you make music, you become great at it, and then people like you, you get recognition, and you get to do something you love. So, isn't that the best life ever? That's what I thought when I was young.

I started off doing my own songs. It was really authentic creativity. I didn't get an audience for that at the time. Not so much. I decided, OK, let's go for the classical career. I'm a high soprano. I have a voice that is suitable for classical music. I enjoyed it a lot, especially at the time. So, that's the path I took. However, it's a rough path. There are many, many talented musicians. You also get selected by the amount of thickness of your skin. There's no space for sensitivity or vulnerability in that career. If you are sensitive or vulnerable, prone to stage fright, prone to critique, then it's hard for you, and you are encouraged not to continue.

I got sent away from the conservatory in the Netherlands. I continued my music education, including performance in voice in the UK. That also didn't work out well, and I left after a year. I thought, OK, this is not what it's going to be for me. So, I'll focus on an academic study in music, which was fine anyway for me. I did that with great pleasure.

On the side, I started studying voice with great teachers. With the right teachers, there's some safety, there's space for some vulnerability. I kind of thrived there. One thing led to another. I started giving concerts, performing first in choirs, but then it led to a solo career, even where I also started working together with a costume designer, a performance artist herself, and we made up performances.

It didn't have the music element, but also something from street art, and I was crossing boundaries. That was a really great time, but I felt constricted in the realm of classical music. Not because classical music is constricting—I won't say that. But for me, I had to acknowledge that it was not the right path. I was still struggling with stage fright and trying to belong, trying to fit in with that world. I was trying and trying, and the more I tried, the less I fit in.

Meanwhile, I was exploring my own creativity and started to write songs again, which were more pop songs. It has elements of classical jazz. It was my own style. Now, there was a point after an audition where I was clearly suited for the role, but some tension in me made me hit a wrong note, and I thought, OK, why am I doing this? I had to go inside myself and ask myself, is this really for the right reasons?

I came to the conclusion that I was for a great deal doing it to prove myself, to gain recognition, to follow the path that I thought was right, but it wasn't in line with also my values of creativity, autonomy—I couldn't express it in the classical scene. Many others are able to, but for me, it wasn't right. So, I turned away from it.

It was tough because I lost a lot of career opportunities and I lost a lot of income, but nevertheless, it was the right choice. I learned that this creative instinct—I should pursue it anyway, in making music and enjoying what I do, enjoying making music with others. Even though it's not getting me the success that is often expected when you are a musician. I'm not after that anymore.

Chris: I'm sure that listeners will resonate with what you just described, no matter what their career path is. I think so many people spend their whole lives trying to fit into a box that they think, “This is the path I'm supposed to take.” And never find the courage to go off that path and create their own.

Emma: I was thinking exactly the same thing. There are two things I think that would resonate with anyone in a lot of workplaces. The first one was fitting in, and feeling like you don't belong where it is that you're working or in any group. When you don't fit in and you don't feel like you belong there, you're obviously going to get one level of tension there. The second one is having that purpose. There's a bit of bravery that comes when you're living to your purpose, and you know why it is that you are there doing the thing that you're doing.

I think there are some lucky people who are in roles where they're confident in their knowledge or their ability, and they feel like they fit in, and then they've got that inner purpose, so they know that they're on the path that they want to be. That gives them a level of confidence that maybe other peers are looking at and going, “Why can't I be like that person over there?”

I think that's important for everybody to hear. Feeling like you belong or that you have earned your place in the workplace, wherever you are, is really important. And also having that inner purpose and knowing that you're on that path will drive you forward and help you overcome that stuff.

Laura: Yeah, what you're saying reminds me—we always get told, especially when we're young, if you want to achieve something, you just have to really work hard, and you'll get it, right? It's not like that. Maybe for some people, but I worked really, really hard, and it doesn't lead to success automatically. It's not even a lack of talent that has to do with it. If you really know what you want to do in life, what you're here for, and what your values are, then it has no point in working hard for something else. It won't work anymore.

Chris: If you think that privilege and opportunity aren't part of success, you're fooling yourself because they totally are.

Well, one thing that struck me this week while I was reading your book is I feel like a dope. I'm reading this book thinking, “How can I be a podcaster and not think about my voice?” Developing my voice—it never occurs to me that this is something I should work on.

When I was preparing for this episode, I was in my journal entries because I had this voice issue that I wanted to talk about. I also noticed that after the Congress last time, when I watched your video, it occurred to me that maybe I should do voice coaching or something. It's not something I thought about until your work.

What do you think? Do we sound okay? You're a voice coach, and you listen to our podcast, so it must not be terrible.

Laura: Well, if people think about doing voice coaching or working on their voice, it's often because they get feedback from others. But the most important thing is, what do you think of your voice yourself? Do you feel uncomfortable when you have to listen to your episodes? Do you feel there is some room for improvement, or are you just really happy the way it is right now?

Chris: Oh, that's a great question. I don't enjoy listening to myself. It's gotten easier compared to when we started, and it was like torture, and I would dread having to listen to the episode. Now, it's okay, but I could do better. I hear myself sometimes being too fast. I know that I often speak too quickly. I don't love the way I sound.

And yet, I get good feedback from people about my voice. I was never somebody who was like, “Oh, I have a good voice.” I always thought I had a terrible voice until I had a podcast. Last year at NAGC 2022, multiple people came up to me to say that they loved my voice. I was like, what? It completely shocked me and was a surprise.

Laura: Isn't it wonderful that the image you have of your own voice is often much worse than how listeners perceive it? That is for everyone. I'm sure everyone who starts out with podcasting goes through the same torture and agony. I had to get used to listening to my voice, my singing voice, when I recorded.

I did record a lot in my life, and now I'm completely used to—on recording, I sound so different than when I listen to myself in my head. It is a different sound, and there's a reason for it. If you listen to yourself speaking live, you don't only hear yourself through your ears but also through the inner ear. The inner ear picks up much more resonance from your bones, and it gives your voice a really deep layer. That's why you probably, when you listen to yourself on the recording, you think, “Oh my God, I'm so thin, I'm so high.”

Yeah, that's the shock that you're so much thinner and higher than you sound in your own head. Does that make sense to you?

Emma: I'm sitting here laughing because I'm Aussie. We all speak through our nose anyway, and I'm resigned to the fact that I sound like shit. I got used to it quite quickly. You always seem like the odd person out when you're on a podcast, and it's always Americans or European people, and you're very self-conscious of your voice.

I got used to it. As we've spoken about before, when I started doing YouTube, I was like, fuck it, got to eat the hot dog because there's a purpose behind doing it. So, I'm just going to have to suck this up and get on with it. And now, I don't even think about it.

Laura: Chris, do you want to share something about the voice issue that you experienced?

Chris: I do. It was November 2017 when I first wrote it down for the first time. I wrote, “My voice has been kind of messed up.”

I thought it was lingering from quitting smoking. I assumed it had something to do with that. It never occurred to me it was tension or anything like that.

In March, I wrote about it again. I said, “My voice and the way it sort of drops out.” So, that's how I was experiencing it. When I was talking, suddenly, there were moments where, to me, my perception of it was that it was dropping out and that it was weak. So, I wrote that a few times that it felt like it was dropping out.

I hadn't been to the doctor in years. I was having this voice issue, and I mentioned it to Michael. He said, “Well, you need to go to the doctor.”

They did an endoscopy to see what my vocal cords looked like. And they were OK, but there was tension around them. It was muscle tension—dysphonia. So, I went to speech therapy. It was so interesting to learn that this tension around my vocal cords was causing the problem. The speech therapist was really helpful. I've been reflecting on this and looking at my notes from that time. In speech therapy, it was all around, “Here are the exercises you can do that should help.” She thought maybe I wasn't using my voice enough.

But all throughout this time, aside from the issue I was talking about with my actual voice, I kept writing that I needed to use my voice metaphorically. I needed to use my voice in my writing to get the theory out there.

When I look back on 2017-2018, it was a huge transition time for me. I finished my PhD the month that I was going to speech therapy. I was finishing my doctorate after several years of being in the program. I had found the theory and applied it in my life, and now I needed to figure out how to work with it. What was I going to do with it?

I needed to figure out how to use my voice literally and figuratively. This was the dilemma for me. But also, I had stopped taking medication in 2017. I had stopped treating any “disorder,” and was just me for the first time in my [adult] life without any prescriptions. It was such a strange time for me to go from “I'm mentally ill. I'm in the care of a psychiatrist” to embracing this theory and trying to be me for the first time in my life.

About a year later, I wrote for the first time, “Oh, I guess my voice is OK.” I don't know exactly when it seemed better, but I think it only took a couple of months after the speech therapy that I stopped noticing that problem where that I was describing as “dropping.”

Laura: Do you think the speech therapy contributed to your voice getting back to a new face? Or was it your own process that was more helpful?

Chris: I think it was my process. But I think speech therapy did have its uses because she gave me so many helpful things to think of when I'm presenting. Even just telling me to take a breath. She gave me useful feedback, knowing that I wanted to do more presentations.

It was definitely my process and my own working out of things that made it better, for sure. I would argue that it took a while to work out where I was going to go. I was working with Jessie in 2018. I helped her launch Third Factor, and then we stopped working together. All that was a part of this time when I was trying to find my voice again, literally and figuratively.

It was a really stressful time. Very stressful. There was a lot of tension. I was really struggling. My mom had cancer. There was a lot happening that year.

Laura: I can relate to this so much from my own experience. When my voice failed me. There were a couple of instances when I was doing classical music where I lost my higher range, the range I needed to use most of the time. And my teachers, they couldn't help me. It just wasn't there. We noticed it wasn't there because of tension, but we couldn't really work out why and how at the time.

Now, in retrospect, I know that too much was going on, too much pressure on myself, being in the career that didn't fit. And then the voice becomes a symptom of things that are tough, not going well. A symptom of the dynamisms going on in your life.

The great thing is you can work on that from both sides. So, top-down, you have the voice exercises. Doing voice exercises won't help you 100% if you are in a disintegration process. However, it’s great to boost your confidence and know what you can do with breathing, and know what you can do with articulation and intonation. And these tools are easy to access if you know they exist in the first place, right?

But then, as you described, Chris, you have to do the other work as well, the bottom-up work, regulating your nervous system, going through the disintegration, acknowledging the dynamisms you go through. Developing the third factor.

Chris: Totally. That's when I figured out that I had to tend my own nervous system.

Laura: What I learned right after I started working with overexcitabilities in the voice is that the autonomic nervous system influences the voice and the voice box in the same way that it influences your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and things like sweating. It was so insightful to realize that, okay, this is not something we can work on with positive affirmations. It needs calming down your system through meditation or yoga or whatever you do. Eventually, that will also help you find your new voice.

Chris: In your book, when you talk about the overexcitabilities, you have a diagram for each one where it's a vulnerability, with an arrow pointing down, and then the strengths of it. For me, one of the things that I noticed I don't do anymore that used to be—I perceived it as a huge problem when I was having a conversation.

One thing that I used to do with Michael when we were talking on the phone, that I've noticed I don't do anymore, is I would stop in the middle of a sentence and go to another sentence and another whole thought. That's one of the things you had under imaginational, I think, and I was like, “Oh, yes, that was me.”

It's really interesting to think about how overexcitability can present as either a strength for you or as a vulnerability, as you put it, which I thought was an apt way of seeing it. How this can look with all five overexcitabilities. It was very relatable because I have them all.

Not to change the subject, but the fact that you don't have psychomotor, but you have the other four was a surprise to me.

Laura: Really? Why?

Chris: I don't know why. But I thought that was interesting.

Emma: It would surprise me because a couple of things that—you know, the questions on like the OE tests and that refer to speech patterns. So, do you have rapid talking and chattering and, you know, compulsive talking and things like that? They generally fall under the psychomotor bucket. So, I would have expected to see something there, too. Just because of that association, I guess.

Laura: I think my fast speech would fit under imaginational then. It's just that I don't see my personality as it is now or even in the past—I don't see myself as an energetic person. I can come across as intense, of course. But I have a lot of quiet time. I don't need to move a lot. My energy gets depleted so easily. I've never really seen myself as someone with psychomotor overexcitability, but maybe you should convince me otherwise. What do you think?

Emma: Maybe also your training has given you an innate sense of pace and to actually breathe while you're using your voice and doing things—small children, you see that sort of rapid chattering and stuff. That used to be me when I was a kid. Every now and then it sneaks up on me, but more as an emotional thing. I've been on phone calls with my dad where he's like, “Take a breath and slow down and say that again so I can understand it, please.”

But perhaps, as you say, maybe that's not big on your overexcitable profile, but also maybe you've had the benefit of the training to help control some of those things that some of us struggle with occasionally.

Laura: Thanks to the classical training in singing, since a young age, I'm so aware of articulation, of speaking clearly, of sentences—they were like musical phrases. And silence is important. I've integrated it into my life and also in my speech.

It's an interesting question. If I didn't turn out as a singer, what my speech would be like then? And if it will be more psychomotor? Yeah, we'll never know. But it's an interesting question.

Chris: I agree. And, of course, they do change over time. My experience of psychomotor overexcitability now is so different than it was even when I was having that voice issue six years ago because I've learned how to tend my nervous system. I have a meditation practice at this point. I have learned how to change my experience of reality in multiple ways over the past several years. Yet I still identify as a person who has psychomotor overexcitability even though I don't feel that inner restlessness anymore.

I know that it's been a part of me for so long that these are things that I don't have a clear answer on how to explain to other people yet or even integrate into my work or do research on. There are a lot of things I think that I believe about the theory that comes from my own work that I haven't put forth yet, or they're still simmering in me or waiting for the right opportunity to develop. Reading your book made me think about several of them.

There were moments in your book where I thought, Well, I don't know if I agree with this; I have to grapple with it. It's interesting because I love that. I realized when I was reading it that I haven't had enough experiences of this yet. Because there aren't enough people writing about the theory to present me with these challenges yet. Where I have to wrap my head around it.

One of them is the case with your client Jamie. You present his case, and it is a great example of somebody who I would give an ADHD diagnosis to probably if I was evaluating them and hearing more about their story. Where I land on this is—I identify as ADHD, even though if you watch me in my life now, I don't come across that way anymore. Again, I've learned to develop myself to a point where it's not so obvious. Yet I know the struggle of it. I know I've had to accommodate myself so much in my life, and that's why it doesn't look like a struggle anymore.

Ultimately, I like what you said about Jamie's case, where you are presenting him with this alternative of overexcitability instead of labeling this as ADHD behavior. But I had to work all this out last night before we recorded because I don't want to be like, I think you're wrong because I think you're right. I think it is right to say this is how to look at it. It's a better framework.

But what I want to do is say there's nothing wrong with being ADHD. I want to remove the stigma from that label so we can say, yes, there's nothing wrong with you. Your environment is not suiting you right now. You don't have the right conditions for your growth. And maybe you think that there's something wrong with you, but we can present you with this alternative. That is, in my opinion, a better way to understand it. It's less pathologizing. But it's not an either/or situation. I think that Jamie probably is ADHD. But, you know, when you give somebody a different lens and a different framework, you don't have to have that pathologizing perspective anymore.

Laura: Definitely. I totally hear you. This is one of the passages I've spent the most time on working with my editor. Okay, what is the state of research on overexcitabilities, ADHD? Are they something different? Are they the same? Do they overlap? Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is still developing, right? How should we look at this from a scientific perspective?

Meanwhile, there's the experience of what they either call ADHD or overexcitability. It's so valuable for me to hear from you, Chris, that you don't find the label working as a stigma for you and that it can also help, of course. If I do it again, that passage about Jamie and ADHD, I would tend to go in the direction that it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that you notice you're different from others, and you need a perspective and some handles to create a life that suits you best. Whether that is through ADHD, with or without medication, or whether that is through learning about Dabrowski and the theory, that's also personal. That's the way I look at it now.

Chris: I know it's very tricky to try and tease out what's what. I think there was too much emphasis on teasing out the difference as if it's either/or. It's more useful to people who identify as ADHD or autistic or whatever the other kind of neurodivergence is to understand that overexcitability is at the root of all of these kinds of neurodivergence. They all experience them.

Not “This is ADHD, and this is overexcitability, and there's some clear line of demarcation” because there's not. It's all in the nervous system. We're talking about the same thing using different words, but it's the same thing.

Let's break the stigma. ADHD is so deeply misunderstood. And I would say the same thing about autism. Not to mention Michael again in this episode, but his deep resistance to me being an ADHDer—“Where's your attention deficit? You don't have a deficit of attention.” It's misunderstood.1

We need to use the theory to liberate, and it's not being used that way. If we're saying, “This is our precious overexcitability, it's not ADHD.” This is why there's so much resistance to the theory in some spaces: they see it as elitist. For me, as somebody who was always pathologizing myself, and sees this as a theory that's liberating—I guess that's where I come down on this. We're not talking about different things. We're just using different words.

Laura: Yes, different words. And with those different words, you can go so many ways. It gives you a perspective which is so much more human than just having a disorder. That is so wonderful about a theory. Really, it's about humans and different human beings from the whole spectrum. There is no normal and abnormal.

Chris: I know it is a beautiful thing. To see it applied in this way is so interesting. Like you said, when I asked you about your story—there are so many different dimensions of us. We can talk about our disintegrations in terms of voice, but that doesn't mean we're not also having them in these other areas of our lives.

Which leads me to something I wanted to ask you about the dynamisms. Do you see unilevel and multilevel dynamisms present in the same people ever?

Laura: Yes, definitely. I'm so glad you bring this up. I don't see unilevel and multilevel as this great epiphany, right? The blue pill, red pill. I remember this from one of your episodes, I think one with Michael—these worlds of development can coexist. I truly believe that.

Especially if I look at the people who come to see me, all of them have feelings of inferiority towards themselves, and it's not inferior towards what others think, but really towards themselves and their voices. Meanwhile, they come with much ambivalence. It jumps from moments of clarity to moments where they sometimes avoid getting back in touch with me and trying to get back to how things were. Trying to delete what they've learned about themselves. It's going back and forth from unilevel to multilevel.

I firmly believe you can experience different levels in different aspects of your life. So, in work, you might be organized, multilevel, and things are stable. And then in your private life, with your marriage and your children, you behave so unilevel. We see that a lot, right? Or the other way around? What do you think?

Chris: It's so common when you do clinical work to have people being ambivalent. Even though they want to get well or do better, they struggle to work with you because you're challenging them. It does create this push/pull experience.

Emma: We're talking about emotions, which we know affect our voice. We know that when we get nervous, our voice changes. We know that when we get upset or angry or excited, our voice changes. Whether you're overexcitable or not. We know about the theory that a lot of the dynamisms are emotions or conflicts between emotions. So, am I surprised that all this stuff is being seen by someone who is looking at the voice, which seems to be like a litmus test or almost the canary in the cage that's telling us that there's something else that's going on with the person and their emotional path?

Even what we were talking about right at the beginning about purpose and fitting in—people will know that when they speak to something they're passionate about, that they truly believe in, they speak a lot differently than when they're telling lies. Or they're saying something they're not sure about, or they're trying to sugarcoat something, you know?

When we are in touch with our values, and we feel good about things, we speak a lot differently, and we know this because we're not trying to force it, and we're not trying to overthink it. It's like looking at one little aspect of a person but seeing how that's showing what's going on underneath the surface.

Laura: That's the tip of the iceberg, right? When I started doing this work with the voice, it started with giving singing lessons. That's what you do as a singer. At some point, you're going to teach others how to sing. By doing that, noticing all of that, what you just mentioned, Emma, realizing that—oh, wow, I'm not just working with voice. I'm working with this whole person and their development and emotions. You can choose to just work on the surface with the tip of the iceberg and work on a voice. But I got so carried away by what was below the surface. That's what I devoted time and study to—getting to know how that works.

I really wanted to understand how and why the voice reflects it. Because we get a lot, “Oh yeah, the voice is like the mirror of the soul,” or is it how they say it? Like the eyes, it mirrors the personality, the soul. But why is that? It's not some ethereal or some vague spiritual thing. No, it has a real connection with the body, nervous system, and psychology. When I found out about that, I was hooked and wanted to get everything. I wanted to know everything about it.

Emma: Which is precisely why you asked Chris, do you think it was the speech therapy that helped, or was it your own process that made the major difference?

I guess for you as a voice coach, if you want to relax someone and get their voice into a good place, some of it will be working at what's between their ears.

Laura: Almost 9 out of 10 people, we need to look at something else rather than the voice. Occasionally, it's just learning to slow down or pronounce better. This is a situation where people are totally fine; they're not in any conflict at the moment, but they had parents who spoke in a certain way, and they copied that. They never realized that they copied their parents’ mumbling or soft voices. When we go through that, and I make them aware of that, it solves the problem.

But it's a minority, and 9 out of 10 other people need to become aware of what is beneath the surface, how the voice is connected to all of that, nervous system, psychology. And that is, for me, then it gets interesting. Then I get to work with the human being and their life. That's what I love about it.

Chris: That's so cool. And that's not the experience I had with speech therapy here. It was all about, here are these exercises I can offer you. There wasn't enough time in those sessions to go into all of the drama of my life at that moment. Again, I was about to defend my dissertation and had the Congress coming up and another conference, and there was so much stress at that time that—I don't know how we could have even gotten into all of it.

Laura: Yeah, that's how it is. That's the reality.

Chris: People don't always come to you with the main conflict because they're not able to even always be aware of it, that it is the conflict.

Laura: Most of the time, when people come to me with all this—with my voice, this and that—we are searching for the first sessions—what's the question that lies below? In the first sessions, I always try to get access to the main issue because they often don't mention that they're not aware of it in the first phone call.

Chris: It's so complex the way that these things play out. It's tough because when you're working with someone first, you have to build rapport, and they have to trust you.

Emma: People don't have access to a professional to go to. I guess they could use some of the stuff in your book that you've spoken about and their own observation of their voice, record themselves. Having done podcasting and having to listen to my own voice, I've noticed things myself, even small stuff, like when I am relaxed, my accent gets thicker. The subject matter of what I'm talking about affects how my voice is. I can hear that from my own observation.

Laura, it's probably helpful that even if people can't get access to someone to help them dig under the surface, people could probably try and do this themselves just by recording themselves and listening to it back and seeing what they could maybe pick out.

Laura: Yes, there is a lot you can do with your voice, also indirectly, without having to see a speech therapist or a voice coach. That is doing the developmental work, isn't it? It's moving through difficult phases in your life and trying to get things on track, making brave decisions about new paths. That is a start, and everybody can do that. Fortunately, there's so much literature to help people with that.

If you combine that with seeing a speech therapist, especially when paid by insurance—that's always a good thing—then you can combine it. You're not focusing on the speech as the main issue that needs solving, but then you see it as, okay, I can get some handles, tips, and tricks for my voice. But it will only serve my voice if I also do my inner work.

Chris: Luckily, I was doing that anyway when I went to the speech therapist. It's funny to me in retrospect that I didn't connect it with the tension in my life until later when I was reflecting on it.

Emma: Look at your journal, listen to yourself back, and use the two in tandem rather than seeing them as two separate things.

Laura: Yeah, do both the journaling, recording yourself, and reviewing and evaluating your recordings. Do that for a year and see what changes.

Chris: We've never had a guest where we talked about polyvagal theory at all. And yet, I know that this is interesting to people. We're talking about the nervous system. We know this is critical to our ability to thrive. We could go deeply down this rabbit hole if we wanted to. I wonder if you could say a little bit about this for us.

Laura: Sure. I made that connection while learning about polyvagal theory, which is the science of the autonomic nervous system. While I learned about it, it brought me flashbacks to Dabrowski’s work. Especially in his book Psychoneurosis is Not an Illness. He talks all the time about how everything that we call disorders now is a sign of a dysregulated nervous system.

When I took classes with Deb Dana, who put the polyvagal theory into clinical practice, she said something similar—everything we experience as diseases and disorders is because of dysregulated nervous systems. I wanted to connect the two. What I did in the book is, of course, you have the overexcitabilities—they are signs of intensity. I would say now that overexcitability and invulnerability are signs of a dysregulated nervous system or when you don't feel safe.

Safety is a big word, but it's good to mention that your nervous system detects signs of danger even when you are on the surface completely fine. But maybe there's someone in the room you don't feel connected to, and this person makes you a bit nervous. For your system, that's already a sign of danger, and then you don't feel 100% safe. Now, whenever you do feel 100% safe, your system can switch completely to something called social engagement. And this is where true connection can take place, where you can feel empathy and compassion for others.

If you don't feel safe, that’s quite hard, I suppose. From the safety, you can still be intense, and you can still express overexcitability. But then it's not like you are irritated or anxious, but then it's more you're focused, you're energetic, you get things done, you're creative. I see this as a valuable connection.

Chris: I participated in a polyvagal theory study group, which was interesting to me because I had, of course, been in the Dabrowski study group before. I had the same experience where once I started learning about polyvagal theory, all the connections were there for me, too.

I would love to do more research to bring the theory and polyvagal theory together to see where they connect because I think that that's what it's going to take to move forward with the theory of positive disintegration. We have to look at all of the modern connections to see what fits and what doesn't fit.

Laura: I love to hear that you had the same experience when you learned about polyvagal theory. Okay, we should bring this together. That was exactly my thought. I'd love to contribute in any way to—I think it will give positive disintegration also more urgency in that sense. It makes it more contemporary. Because polyvagal theory is hot, it's everywhere. And if we can connect it to overexcitability and dynamisms, yeah, we really have something here.

Chris: I agree. I think that's important work to be done.