Research Overview

Research to me has always been the aim of building bridges by combining my unbridled curiosity for understanding (e.g. “What happens when people are sung into a state of trance and how does it work?”) with the joy of the sensory experience (e.g. “How does it feel to become one with the body of sound of your community?”).

I have devoted myself to consciousness research, focusing on the effects of voice, sound, and trance in psychotherapy. With my guidance, four studies were conducted, evaluated, and widely published at the Institute of Medical Psychology of the University Hospital Heidelberg.

Sabine Rittner is a member of the research network ResearchGate.

Project overview

Pilot project: 1996 – 1999
Voice and Music in Psychotherapy (StimMusTher)

“Voice is living biography” (Gundermann)
The voice is a phenomenon which, as the primary expressive form of the human being, links the logical-rational content of speech to the emotional meaning. Like a prism, it crystallizes both manifold personality aspects and temporary moods. Beyond the interpersonal aspect of non-verbal communication, singing in particular can bring about complex psychophysiological and emotional change processes within the individual. The aim of this pilot study was to identify factors in which the importance of vocal expression in the therapeutic relationship (previously underestimated in psychotherapy research) is condensed.

Project duration: 2001 – 2004
Sound and Trance in the EEG – Brain mapping of different trance induction methods in a ritual setting

This study investigated the relationships between subjective trance experience, objectifiable trance depth, measurable vigilance and localizable brain activity in the topographic electroencephalogram.

The focus was on four different tested receptive procedures whose trance-inducing effects on the test subjects were measured and compared:

  1. Body Monochord
  2. monochrome voices
  3. Peruvian Whistling Vessels
  4. a “ritual posture” with rattle stimulation

With these procedures, both primarily trophotropic and primarily ergotropic altered waking states of consciousness can be triggered. The measurements were carried out in a ritual group setting (naturalistic design) appropriate to the research subject on one day in September 2002 at the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Hospital of Heidelberg.

The research methods used were an imaging procedure (topographic quantitative spontaneous EEG) combined with quantitative (5D-APZ and PCI) and qualitative procedures (content analysis of spontaneous recordings). The aim of this pilot study was the scientific examination and foundation of receptive music-therapeutic and anthropological treatment methods for trance induction, as well as their embedding in findings from consciousness research.

Project duration: 2004 – 2006
The sound and pattern medicine of Shipibo-Conibo in the Amazon lowlands of Peru
Description of the psycho-physical effects of the Icaro chants from the perspective of the Ayahuasqueros and their clients

The Shipibo-Conibo-Shetebo are an indigenous ethnic group of the original inhabitants of East Peru (Selva region), who are settled in several villages in the Amazon lowlands on the upper reaches of the Ucayalli, a headwater of the Amazon. They have mastered the extraordinary “art of geometric patterns”, which are artistically represented in many different ways: as body painting, as embroidery on clothes, on ceramics. Based on the visionary line structures in a person’s energy field, Shipibo healers can diagnose the client’s state of health during the nightly healing ritual under the state of consciousness altered by ayahuasca.

The study should contribute to further deepening the knowledge of the targeted use of music, especially the human voice, for the induction and modelling of altered waking states of consciousness, and should be based on the oral experience of eastern Peruvian ayahuasqueros. The systematic processing of this traditional knowledge provides a transcultural contribution to the focused therapeutic use of music and voice in the context of Western European psychotherapy.

Projektzeitraum: 2003 – 2005
Trance: Determinants, contents and consequences of trance experiences
An empirical study using the example of “ritual postures”

Based on empirical data, the study dealt with content-relevant questions concerning the way of experiencing altered states of consciousness induced by “ritual postures”®. There are two main topics that were the focus of this study. On the one hand, the question arose as to whether similarities in the experience reports support the hypothesis of a concrete, predictable framework of experience through the use of the special Ritual Body Postures®. Of crucial importance in this context was the congruence of the narratives both on an inter-individual level and with regard to the reports taken from topic-specific literature. On the other hand, the question of different experiences of altered states of consciousness among experts and novices was examined.

Under the direction of Sabine Rittner, psychotherapist and research assistant at the University of Heidelberg, the study was carried out over a period of 3 years. The study involved 19 participants of the annual self-experience group “Journeys to the other reality” (Head: Sabine Rittner). The trance experiences of the participants in the “Bear Bear”, “Olmek Prince”, “Saami Shaman” and “South Moravian Woman” were analysed.

Music Therapy for Depression

Sabine Rittner is currently therapeutic director of the study “Music Therapy for Depression” (MUSED). It is a randomized controlled study to evaluate psychobiological effects of music therapy on depression in adult women. People with depression have a disturbed regulation of emotions and associated deficits in the regulation of psychobiological stress systems. Music therapy is a complementary therapeutic approach that contributes to the effective treatment of depression. Initial studies show that music therapy can positively influence depressive symptoms and their psychobiological mechanisms.