top of page

The Psychophysiological Implications of Rhythm in Human Behavior
Jim Anderson, MS, MFT
Marriage & Family Therapist
Masters Thesis
California State University, Fullerton


Rhythm is a phenomenon that can be found in practically every aspect of life. On the whole, universal and biological rhythms play a major role in human behavior. Likewise, a variety of psychological rhythms affect people at both the conscious and unconscious levels of behavior. Rhythms offer a rich source of information, which may possibly lead to a better understanding of human behavior. Synchronization between mother-infant dyad is one of the major developmental tasks, and is labeled by some researchers as the cornerstone on which all human interactions are built. However, synchronization can be easily disrupted by differences in biological functioning, rhythmicity, and individual family dynamics. Lack of synchronization can lead to difficulties such as mental illness, physical and emotional abuse, and possible disruption for an entire family system. Theories of rhythm and synchronization will be presented. These theories offer a vast amount of information that may help parents and society learn to better understand the dynamics behind each individual's unique rhythm. Counselors are not immune to this issue. Finally, the implications of rhythm and synchronization in the helping profession is discussed.


This study is divided into six sections. The first category covers operational definitions of time, rhythm, synchronization, and entrainment. The second category of this study will give a general overview of two types of rhythm, namely universal and biological rhythms. The third section will focus on psychological rhythms, such as rhythms of the embryo and infant, styles of temperament, and psychological theories of mother-infant synchronization. The fourth section will cover the theory of rhythm in social psychology. This section will summarize the salient aspects of rhythm in social interaction. The fifth section will address the possible dangers of rhythmic disruption. This section will explore some of the psychological problems and psychopathologies, which may occur as a result of mother-infant desynchronization. Section six will cover the implications of rhythm for the counseling profession. This section will address several aspects of synchronization between counselor and client.

Operational Definitions:

A vocabulary of highly specific terms will surface throughout this study. These terms are a part of the language and study of rhythm. For purposes of clarity, it is essential that key terms relevant to this study be operationalized. Therefore, the operational definitions of time, rhythm, synchronization and entrainment will now be presented.

According to Joseph McGrath (1988), human lives unfold in time. All human activity has a temporal dimension, and this activity takes place in a temporal as well as a spatial context (McGrath, 1988). Time, therefore, will be a fundamental dimension of this study because all rhythms take place in time and space. Time is operationalized as the system of those sequential relations that any event has to any other, (as past, present, or future); and as indefinite and continuous duration regarded as that in which events succeed one another (Random House Webster's College Dictionary, 1992).

According to Rebecca Warner (cited in McGrath, 1988) the concept of rhythm has been used by many different researchers to refer to many different types of patterns. When the term "rhythm" is used in its broadest possible sense, it refers to any predictable pattern over the course of time. Thus, rhythm can only function within the construct of time (McGrath, 1988).

For purposes of clarity, rhythm is operationalized in reference to biological and psychological rhythms which show a predictable pattern in behavior over time. Therefore, rhythm is defined as any movement or procedure with a uniform or patterned recurrence of a beat, accent, or the like; the regular recurrence of related elements in a progression or other system of motion; and the physiological regular reoccurrence of an action or function such as the beat of the heart (Random House Webster's college dictionary, 1992).

This study will also focus on the concept of synchronization, as it plays a key role in the understanding of a variety of interconnected rhythmic phenomena. According to McGrath and Kelly (1986), definitions of synchronization usually include two prerequisites: that there be a systematic relationship between the periods of the cycles whose synchronization is being explored; and that there be a systematic relationship between the phases (i.e., time of onset or offset or both) of the cycles being examined. Synchronization is defined as indicating the same time (as one timepiece with another); and to cause to go on, move, operate, or work at the same rate and exactly together (Random House Webster's college dictionary, 1992).

The phenomenon of entrainment was discovered in 1665, by the Dutch scientist Christian Huygens. Huygens observed that when two pendulum clocks were mounted side by side, they would swing together in precise rhythm far beyond their capacity to be identically matched in mechanical accuracy (Hart, 1990).

In social psychology, the term entrainment has been used, by analogy, to describe many processes of human social behavior (Kelly & McGrath, 1985; McGrath & Kelly, 1986; McGrath, Kelly, & Machatka, 1984; McGrath & Rotchford, 1983; cited in McGrath, 1988). 


However, in this study, entrainment is operationalized as synonymous with synchronization. The author acknowledges that defining human behavior in terms of rhythm, synchronization, and entrainment, may be limiting because these are only three of many aspects of human behavior.

A thorough understanding of universal, biological, and psychological rhythms is necessary, before examining the effects of synchronization on the mother-infant dyad. These three forms of rhythm will be examined in relation to their effect on physical and psychological aspects of human behavior. 

Universal Rhythms: Is there a universal rhythm? According to the research of Sollberger (1965), the idea of universal rhythms is synonymous with external rhythms such as tidal, seasonal, and diurnal rhythms. According to Hart (1990), we live on a planet which completes its cycle around the sun every 365 days with a moon that cycles around it every 28 days, and which rotates on its own axis every 24 hours, yet most of us have little appreciation for just how deeply we are dancing to these rhythms (Hart 1990).  Sollberger (1965), suggests that the capacity to follow universal rhythms and to oscillate with them may even enhance the survival potential of a species.

The biological sciences define entrainment as a phenomenon in which one cyclic process becomes captured by, and set to oscillate in rhythm with, another process (McGrath & Kelly, 1986). McGrath and Kelly (1986) state that human physiological processes such as temperature and activity cycles are entrained to a circadian (24-hour) time clock and Schuster (1992), found that circadian rhythms are easily disrupted. The interconnection of cyclic processes can be seen by observing what happens when that connection is broken by the phenomenon of jet lag (Schuster, 1990).

McGrath and Kelly (1986), observed that when an individual travels quickly across several time zones, the circadian processes are no longer synchronized with his or her new clock time. Those who have experienced jet lag might best attest to the desynchronization between one's internal clock and a variety of external stimuli (Schuster, 1992). McGrath (1988), states that this desynchronization has a number of negative consequences which will continue until the cycles become re-entrained to one another.

Biological Rhythms: According to biological science, the human body is a vast galaxy of rhythms. Sollberger found that organisms such as plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates abound in spontaneous rhythms with durations ranging from milliseconds to years (Sollberger, 1965). The basic endogenous rhythms inherent in human beings are the heartbeat, pulse rate, respiration, and EEG waves. In biological terms, it is not the smoothness of the pattern, but rather the temporal regularity with which it repeats that defines a process as an endogenous rhythm. It is not the peaks and valleys of intensity in the heartbeat that are significant, but rather its flow and regularity.

Research shows that there is a strong tendency for synchrony among endogenous rhythms in terms of both phase and period (Sollberger, 1965; McGrath &Kelly,1986). An example of this interplay of rhythmic activity is the coordination between pulse rate and respiratory frequency. According to Sollberger (1965), during inspiration the heart rate rises slightly as compared to expiration.

In another study, German scientist Gunther Hildebrant (cited in Luce, 1971) concluded that a healthy person has a four-to-one ratio of heartbeat-to-respiration, but that people suffering from cardiac problems often have a six-to-one ratio. The pulse rate and respiration rate also operate rhythmically together within the circadian (24-hour) cycle, reaching a peak during the day and dropping to a low point during sleep (cited in Luce, 1971).

In a study by Reite and Capitano (Cited in Hojat & Vogel, 1987), monkeys were shown to synchronize physiological processes such as heart rate, body temperature, and time of delta sleep when they were allowed to be together. Observations showed that asynchronization took place when the monkeys were separated and resynchronization occurred when they were reunited. Although the research of Reite and Capitano (1985), seems to suggest that monkeys biologically entrain with each other, the level of trauma produced by the separation periods is not discussed in the work of Hojat and Vogel (1987).  In his study on biological regulation, Sollberger (1965) discussed how external input affects the output of an organism. His research points out that the effect of external disturbance on an organism may also be partially responsible for synchronization (Sollberger, 1965).

Psychological & Psychosocial Rhythms: Psychological rhythms play an essential role in many developmental aspects of life. This section addresses the psychological rhythms of the embryo and infant, temperament, and a variety of theories of synchronization between mother and infant.  Standley & Madsen (1990), suggest that psychological rhythms start to appear even prior to birth. Some theories suggest that the embryo is actually capable of differentiated responses to music, with an apparent preference and dislike for particular compositions and composers (Olds, 1985). Although this theory is highly controversial, it is suggested that during the final trimester, embryos are capable of learning from external environmental sounds, prior to birth (Standley & Madsen, 1990). Kolata (cited in Standley & Madsen, 1990),reports that new borns preferred a story that had been repeatedly read out loud by their mothers during utero, over a previously unheard story.

According to Standley and Madsen (1990), infants are sensitive to changes in speech. In a study done by Condon and Sander (1973), it was reported that an infant's movement to speech is precise and synchronized with prosodic elements such as rhythm, intensity, stress, and juncture. Infants are also able to discriminate

variations in inflection and vocabulary, leading to significant shifts in voice preference (Frielander, 1968).

Rhythmicity in Styles of Temperament: Some personality traits have been psychologically defined as styles of temperament. According to Schuster (1992), temperament is the style of behavior that a child or person habitually uses to cope with the demands and expectations of the environment. Oldham and Morris (1990), equate temperament to the metaphorical hand that one is dealt at conception, which they believe sets the stage for all later development. An individual's personality style depends on what that individual brings to his or her environment and also on what the environment brings to that individual. This is the conceptual framework of nature and nurture, heredity and environment.

Rhythmicity is one component of temperament, and has been operationalized as the regularity or irregularity of eating, sleeping, and other biological functions (Schuster, 1992). Examples of rhythmicity include the fact that some infants cry often and others do not, while some infants develop regular sleeping and eating patterns and others are difficult to train to any schedule (Schuster, 1992).

Temperament styles have been correlated to rhythmicity (Schuster & Asburn, 1990). Thomas and Chess (cited in Oldham & Morris, 1990), have identified nine categories of temperamental variables. In their study of 141 children, Thomas & Chess found that rhythmicity is an important clue to temperament and later adjustment in adulthood. Thomas and Chess (1970), defined high and low rhythmicity as the ability or inability to synchronize with family patterns of eating and sleeping. In their 1970 study, Thomas & Chess also identified three basic temperament styles, "Easy", "Slow to Warm-up" and "Difficult", into which the majority of infants fit.

Rhythmicity is a key factor in both the "Easy" and "Difficult" child patterns. The Easy-child pattern has been linked to a high rhythmicity. He or she is characterized by positiveness in mood, regularity in body function, and a moderate intensity of approach to new situations. High-rhythmicity infants quickly establish regular sleeping and eating schedules and are generally cheerful (Thomas & Chess, 1970).

The difficult-child pattern has been linked to a low rhythmicity. These children are irregular in eating and sleeping schedules, tend to withdraw from new stimuli, and are rather slow to adapt to changes in their environment. The "Difficult" child has also been described as negative in mood, slow to accept new foods, and take a long time to adjust to new routines and activities.

According to Thomas and Chess (1970), difficult-child patterns that prevail throughout infancy are identified by the amount of time spent crying. The key to temperamental development is the extent to which the child's personality style synchronizes within the family or larger environment and fits the norm which defines harmony in his or her family. It is this synchronization between the infant and family, which Thomas and Chess refer to as "goodness of fit" (cited in Oldham & Morris, 1990).

Theories of Synchrony in Mother-Infant Dyad: Synchronization can take place on many different levels: between individuals in the behavioral rhythms of the mother-infant dyad, between two physiologic functions such as heartbeat and respiration, and between a physiologic function (sleep) and universal rhythm of the circadian (24-hour) cycle, to cite just three examples.

Margaret Mahler and Erik Erikson, referred to as stage theorists, have postulated the importance of synchronization as a fundamental aspect of psychological development. Although Erikson uses the term "synchronized interactional exchange", both he and Mahler address the issue of early synchronization as a key in the development of the mother-infant relationship. The reader should be cautioned that both the theories of Mahler and Erikson are highly subjective and culturally encapsulated.  Mahler's work focused on her own observations of what she considered "normal" babies and their mothers. Mahler addressed the stages of psychological processes taking place within the child during the first three years of life and conceptualized childhood psychosis based on the interactions between mothers and their babies.

According to St. Clair (1986), Mahler is best described as a developmentalist, because her concept of object relations is focused on the psychological birth of the child over a time span. Mahler describes this psychological birth as a gradual process in which the infant separates and individuates from the mother. During the first few months of life Mahler finds that it is essential for the mother to synchronize with the

psychophysiological cycles of the infant. According to Schuster's (1992) analysis of Mahler, the infant can only move into the stage of symbiosis, the undifferentiation it experiences as a fusion with the mother, if the caregiver has previously responded consistently and in synchrony with the baby's need and behaviors (Schuster & Ashburn, 1992).

Since each child has his or her own rhythm to these developmental phases, one key issue in promoting symbiosis is the ability of the mother to effectively synchronize with the infant. Hence, a mother who tries to push the infant beyond its scope of psychological functioning or attempts to slow the baby's development to meet her own needs could cause psychological disturbance and trauma for the infant. Mahler finds that the role of the mother is to synchronize with the infant to reduce hunger and tension. Thus, she suggests that equilibrium depends on the ability of the mother and infant to establish lines of communication together. A lack of any inner needs being met by the mother could lead the infant to react with aggression, using ridding and ejective mechanisms to cope with the lack of equilibrium from the outside world.

Erikson similarly theorizes that the first six months of life, which he terms the "early incorporative stage", is a time during which the infant "takes in" the external world. According to Erikson, the mother must coordinate and offer stimulation, or a "synchronized interactional exchange", in appropriate degrees of intensity. This stimulation is referred to as "synchronized interactional exchange". The key word is "synchronized", as Erikson emphasizes the timing of the stimulation as an essential factor, facilitating the infants willingness to accept it (cited in Schuster, 1992).

Erikson postulates that the infant can develop a defensive scheme and lethargy if interactional synchronization is not appropriately timed and matched (Schuster & Ashburn, 1990). According to Erikson (cited in Schuster, 1990), the infant begins to associate the primary caregiver with relief, comfort, and the pleasurable sensations of being picked up, caressed, rocked and fed. Erikson recognizes the coordination of the psychosocial and biophysical domains when he concludes: "The first demonstration of social trust in the baby is the ease of his feeding, the depth of his sleep, and the relaxation of his bowels" (Schuster & Ashburn, 1992).

Synchronization and Physiological Development: Concepts of synchronization and rhythm appear in an article by Hojat and Vogel which explores the phenomenon of mother-infant bonding. This study is filled with an abundance of research suggesting that neurological synchronization is among factors contributing to the mother-child tie. In this study, the mother-child tie is postulated to be the developmental cornerstone of all later socioemotional behavior (Hojat, Vogel, 1987). The research of Harlow (cited in Hojat and Vogel, 1987) is supporting the assumption that sensory-physiological factors, which are originally formed through the relationship that a child develops with his or her primary caretaker, play a major role in the development of social-affectional bonding.

Biological data compiled by Schwartz and Rosenblum (1983), argues that the bonding between mother and child has a physiological thermoregulatory affect on the baby's body temperature which is optimized by body contact with the mother. Continuous infant-mother contact has been reported to contribute to better functioning of the infant's immune system (cited in Hojat & Vogel, 1987).  Physiological rhythmicity has been the focus of a number of studies (Sander, et al., 1970: Reite & Field, 1985).  According to Sander (1970), it is the early infant-mother bonding that actually influences the physical rhythmicity of the infant, and the infant's physical rhythmicity, in turn, affects neurophysiological development.

Factors surrounding the synchronization of the mother and infant's heart rate offer another example of synchronization. A study by Yogman, Lester, & Hoffman (1983), states that the heart rate of an infant has a natural tendency to synchronize with the heart rate of the mother during periods of soothing interaction. It was discovered that infants' heart rates tended to become asynchronized in infant-stranger dyads. Although synchronization of infant-mother heart beats may manifest as a result of sensory-physiological factors, it is impossible to rule out external rhythms. According to Sollberger (1965), dominant biological synchronizers such as light, temperature and the surrounding regimes will affect synchronization.

The research of Harlow (1958), Parkes & Stevenson-Hinde (1982), Schwartz & Rosenblum (1983), Head & Beer (1978), Lawrence (1980), Sanders, et al.(1970), and Reite & Field (1985), (cited in Hojat & Vogel, 1987), appears to support the assumption that socioemotional behavior is aligned with biological and neurophysiological aspects of body function, and that physiological and biological markers can provide possible explanations for the outcomes of making and breaking affectional ties (cited in Hojat & Vogel, 1987). Thus, synchronization plays an essential role in establishing physiological aspects of the mother-infant bond (Sander, 1972).

In another publication, Sander (1972), studied infant distress during feeding. Distress was operationalized as specific infant behaviors which were judged to be evidence of discomfort or incoordination in the feeding process. Distress was also viewed as a form of communication in the interaction process by means of which the infant and mother reach a mutually satisfactory state of adaptation (Sander, 1972).  The conceptual model for this study (Sander, 1972) defines the initial adaptation phase of the mother-infant relationship as an ever-developing synchronous organization, within each and between the mother-infant components (Sander, 1972). This study was designed to investigate the development of regulatory processes that take place between mother-infant interaction during the first 10 days of the infant's life.

One of the major concerns of the researchers was that the mother and infant have extreme differences in central nervous systems and behavioral organizations. The reader should be warned that biological differences are an inherent problem in this type of study. Sander (1972), points out that this is because the infant and mother begin their relationship in a disparate organization. An example of this asynchrony can be found in the differences between infant and mother's rhythms of sleeping. According to Schuster (1992), every infant has a unique sleep pattern. It can take up to 2 months before the infant's sleep patterns start to approximate those of an adult (Schuster p.132).

Sander (1972), states that the synchronization between mother-infant is the pillar on which the study was based. According to Sander (1972), "we assume, therefore, that establishment of synchronization between intrinsic infant rhythms and stable regularities of the caretaking system (Sander, et al., 1970) is the critical accomplishment of the earliest mother-infant interaction".  Sander (1972), suggests that it is the recurring encounters between mother and infant that become the stabilizing and predictable variable in their ability to synchronize schedules. Thus, they slowly move toward coordination, as the infant will begin to gradually assimilate to the rhythms of the mother. Sander (1972) suggests that mother-infant synchronization has a direct link to highly specific cues (Sander et al., 1970). Such cues include a mother's response to differentiate between different types of cries of her infant, such as a hunger cry versus a cry of pain (Sander, 1972). However, the reader should be warned that these differentiated responses were based on highly subjective data.

Does synchronization have a stabilizing and calming effect on infants? Perhaps healthy synchronization between mother and infant may actually introject a calming effect on the baby. Mother-infant synchronization allows the child to have its own experience acknowledged, so that it can integrate the experience and make developmental progress instead of becoming stuck in one particular stage. Synchronization eliminates some of the struggle that an infant may initially experience, especially the newborn who does not yet have any ego coping mechanisms in place. In this sense, synchronization may be the way a mother helps to validate the infant's total experience, which in turn will eventually give the infant the ego strength needed to cope with the normal frustrations of life.

The Social Psychology of Rhythm: According to Rebecca Warner (1988), there are three important theoretical questions which underlie most research on rhythms: 1) How pervasive are rhythmic processes in human development? 2) Why are social systems organized rhythmically? and 3) What testable hypotheses can be derived from the assumption that rhythm is a fundamental organizing principle of social interaction?

One argument for the pervasiveness of rhythms can be found in biological theories. According to Warner (cited in McGrath, 1988), in recent years many eminent biologists and physiologists have come to view rhythm as a fundamental organizing principle of living systems (Bunning, 1973; Goodwin, 1970; Iberall & McCulloch, 1969; Pittendrigh, 1975)

According to Goodwin (cited in McGrath, 1988), there are two advantages of rhythmic organization in biological living systems. The first is that rhythm is a form of dynamic equilibrium which makes it possible for an organism to vary its metabolic, reproductive, and other biological activities over time, while still keeping system parameters within limits. According to Yates (cited in McGrath, 1988), many biologists now believe that most physiological processes show dynamic equilibrium (cyclic variation), rather than static equilibrium.

Warner's second argument for studying rhythm in human interaction is based on making assumptions that are taken from the biological sciences.

Borrowing the idea that organisms can be viewed as a loosely coupled "population of oscillators", sets the stage for Warner's argument that a social system can also be viewed as a population of oscillators (cited in McGrath, 1988). By adopting this research to fit into her theory of rhythm in social interaction, Warner (1988), makes the assumption that an individual's activity level varies rhythmically and that the behaviors of individuals become coordinated during joint activities such as conversations, teamwork, walking, dancing, and singing, (cited in McGrath, 1988).

In summary, Warner (1988), states that desynchronization between activity rhythms and internal physiological rhythms may be associated with neuroticism (Lund, 1974) and depression (Wehr & Goodwin, 1983). However, she states that the direction of any possible causal relationship is not clear. Warner (cited in McGrath, 1988), also postulates that rhythm serves the same function in social systems that it has been claimed to serve in physiological systems, such as facilitating coordination of activities, although the primary goal of her work is to set up a research agenda based on this theory of social interaction rhythms. It should be noted that Warner makes a disclaimer in her hypotheses, acknowledging that specific details of rhythmic organization at specific levels of interaction would need to be defined, and that many of these arguments are not testable hypotheses.

Possible Dangers of Rhythmic Disruption: According to Luce (1971), people who lose track of time often experience panic and disorientation because time is a crucial aspect in human organization. One of the five psychiatric questions designed to assess mental illness or a "break with reality" is concerned with the patient's perception of current time, date, and year.  Rhythmic disruption may affect children with low rhythmicity since they often experience more problems because their temperaments are stressful to their parents.

According to Oldham and Morris (1990), these children may require more patience than many parents can give, especially if the parents are rigid, inflexible, or overwhelmed by stress and conflict (Oldham & Morris, 1990).  Thomas and Chess (1970), have further hypothesized that incongruence and lack of synchronization in temperament styles can try the patience of parents, especially when the parents lack internal controls. This pattern can eventually lead to physical and emotional abuse (Pagelow, 1984).

While parents of a child with low rhythmicity may think the child's temperament is the presenting problem, the difficulty actually lies in the match between the family temperament and the temperament of the child. In fact, a lack of synchronization to family norms may still affect a child whose behavior has been labeled an "easy-child" pattern of rhythmicity. In this example, a depressed family may unnecessarily restrict forward, adventurous behavior in an active, outgoing child. Problems resulting from rhythmicity are not exclusively due to the nature of the child's temperament, but also to the inter-connection between the child and his or her family (Oldham & Morris, 1990).

In one study, Sander (1970) states that the young infant who tends to be active at night and sleep by day can easily disrupt the schedule of the mother. It is suggested that a disruption of sleep for the mother can have adverse effects and create a sense of disorganization in the rest of the household. Thus, the asynchronization of interdependent life processes, such as an infant's disruption of family sleeping patterns, can threaten to impose a strain on the entire family system (Sander, 1972). It should be noted that the risk of physical abuse increases when infants pose ongoing difficulties for their parents, or are categorized as being "fussy" (Pagelow, 1984).

If the mother is in constant denial of the infant's experience, she will desynchronize with the child and the child's experience. According to Klein (cited in St. Clair, 1986), every urge and instinct is bound up with an object or part object such as a mothers breast. A good part object, and good breast, is then associated with the gratification the infant feels from being held and eating. The bad part object, in contrast, is the deprivation the infant experiences when the breast is unavailable. The bad breast would typify a lack of synchronization in the mother-infant dyad, since the bad object and bad breast is not adequately responding to the infants needs.

The theory of intergenerational transmission is an area in which synchronization could actually present problems. This theory is based on the assumption that a child in a dysfunctional family has aligned and synchronized with the dysfunctional system. Thus the dysfunctional rhythm of the family is introjected and the child may eventually carry the same dysfunctional rhythm into his or her own family as an adult.

A lack of synchronization with societal norms is evident in a variety of the mental disorders found in the DSM 3 R (197).


One such disorder is attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is characterized by developmentally inappropriate degrees of inattention, impulsiveness, difficulty remaining seated, excessive jumping about, running in the classroom, fidgeting, manipulating objects, and twisting and wiggling in one's seat (DSM 3 R, 1987). Other features that may interfere with appropriate synchronization include inattention and difficulty organizing or listening. According to the DSM 3 R (1987), another feature of this disorder as the inability to hear what has been said, as well as interrupting or intruding on other family members.

Implications for Counseling: According to Cormier and Cormier (1991), "synchrony is the degree of harmony between the counselor's and clients nonverbal behaviors". It is believed that during the initial interactions it is extremely important for the therapist to be able to match and pace with the client's nonverbal behaviors. Synchrony in the helping relationship has been found to contribute to building rapport and empathy (Maurer & Tindall, 1983, found in Cormier, page 81). It has been proposed that the counselor's ability to match, align, and pace with the client is a powerful technique, especially during the initial sessions. This type of synchronization focuses on the rhythm of the client in order to bring a feeling of oneness and congruence into the session.

According to Cormier and Cormier (1991), body movements are culture-specific and can be a fruitful source for helping determine a client's affective state. It has also been hypothesized that body movements do not take place in a vacuum but are possibly unconsciously linked to speech and social interaction. Condon (1966), suggests that from birth, there seems to be an effort to synchronize body movements and speech between two persons. It has been hypothesized that a lack of synchrony in humans and especially adults may constitute symptoms associated with a variety of pathologies (Cormier & Cormier, 1991).

Evidence seems to support the concept that all people develop their own rhythms within a variety of cultural norms of social behavior (McGrath, 1988). Cultural norms play an extremely complicated role in the idea of tempo and rhythmicity in life. According to Hall (cited in Cormier, 1991), cultural norms are

described as the "silent language" of any given culture. Hall goes on to say that these norms of behavior are informal patterns and that there are no dictionaries able to translate a culture's temporal rules formally (cited in Cormier, 1991).

According to Kelly (1985), temporal factors permeate much of our lives. This is mainly because our American culture tends to live by a never ending schedule of appointments, deadlines and of course the clock. Yet as Kelly (1985), points out, relatively little is actually known about the effects of such time pressure and constraints on our behavior (cited in McGrath, 1988).  It is essential that counselors not be culturally encapsulated. Characteristics of synchronization vary widely from person to person and form culture to culture (McGrath, 1988). According to Jones (1988), it may well be that the differences in time perspective are the essence of individual and cultural differences (cited in McGrath, 1988). Counselors need to have an awareness of how each individual culture varies in rhythm and synchronization. The reader should be warned that one limitation of this study is that it is only addressing rhythm from a Western perspective.

According to Milton Erickson ("Ericksonian hypnosis", 1990), pacing with a client becomes a healing process. Pacing and matching, in synchrony and rhythm, actually become hypnotic when a therapist feeds a client's own experiences back to him. Consistency is a key to this approach. Erickson believes that "truisms" have an extremely calming effect because the therapist is feeding back the client's experience, in synchronization ("Ericksonian hypnosis", 1990).

As Thoreau so eloquently stated, "If man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer" (cited in McGrath, 1988). Thoreau's thought strikes a chord in so many people that it has become part of our language.  We use the phrase "the beat of a different drummer" to explain any pace of life unlike our own. It is my hope that future counselors will learn to incorporate different aspects of rhythm and eventually use rhythm, synchronization, music and entrainment as tools to gain a greater knowledge of human behavior.



American Psychiatric Association. (1987). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders ( 3rd edition, revised). Washington DC:
Cormier, W. H., & Cormier, L. S., (1991). Interviewing Strategies for Helpers. ( 3rd ed.). Belmont CA: Brooks/Cole.

Hart, M., (1990). Drumming at the Edge of Magic. New York: Harper Collins. Leonard, G., (1978). The Silent Pulse. New York: Dutton.
Luce, G. G., (1971). Body Time. New York: Pantheon.
Lowen, A., (1970). Pleasure: A Creative Approach to Life. New York: Penguin McGrath, J. E., (Eds.) (1988). The Social Psychology of Time: New Perspectives. Beverly Hills: Sage.

McGrath, J. E., & Kelly, J. R., (1986). Time and Human Interaction: The Social Psychology of Time. New York: Guilford Press.
Milkowski, B., (1993). Modern Drummer Magazine. New Jersy: Modern Drummer Publications.

Oldham, J. M., & Morris, L. B., (1990). The Personality Self-Portrait. New York: Bantam.
Pagelow, M. D., (1984). Family Violence. New York: Praeger.
Random House Webster's college dictionary. (1992). New York: Random House. Sander, L., Stechler, G., Burns, P., & Julia, H., (1970).Early mother-infant interaction and 24-hour pattern of activity and sleep. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 9. 103-123.

Sander, L., Stechler, G., Burns,P., & Julia, H., (1972). Distress in Feeding: Short-term effects of caretaker environment of the first 10 days. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 11. 427-439.
Schuster, C. S., & Ashburn, S. S., (1992). The Process of Human Development. (3rd ed.). Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott.

Sollberger, A., (1965). Biological Rhythm Research. New York: Elsevier.
St. Clair, M., (1986). Object Relations and Self Psychology. Monterey CA: Brooks/Cole.
Standley, J. M., Madsen, C. K., (1990). Comparison of infant preferences and responses to auditory stimuli: Music, Mother, and other female voice. Journal of Music Therapy. 27. 54-97.

Thomas, A., & Chess, S., (1977). Temperament and Development. New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Thomas, A., Chess, S., & Birch, H. G., (1970). The Origin of Personality. Scientific American. 233(2). 102-109.

bottom of page