Does Scream Therapy Really Work? 

What happens when your inner screams come out?  Picture this: You’re watching a scary movie and your emotions are fully engaged. The danger on the screen creeps closer. The doom-filled music builds. Suddenly, there is a jump-scare worthy moment. You inhale sharply – and then scream. It may be a perfectly normal response to the big buildup moment in a horror film, but did you ever really think about what your body goes through when you scream – and how there might be physical and emotional health benefits to it? Let’s look at scream therapy and how it works.  

Scream therapy has been used as a way to relieve stress for more than 50 years. This type of therapy is just what it sounds like: screaming loud and long and letting all your emotions out with a yell. After the sound ends, the goal is for the person to feel relaxed.  But does this verbal jolt to the system really work? 

A half-century of screaming. Scream therapy was popularized as a trendy form of therapy in 1970 after a book by a therapist described it as a quick fix for the pent-up trauma or anger some people felt – including feelings dating back to childhood, according to Healthline. Celebrities including actors and musicians jumped on the bandwagon. Scream therapy could be performed solo or in groups. It wasn’t unusual to have large scream-ins staged in public areas.  

The science behind the screams. We know that screaming at the pinnacle moment of a scary movie can be a form of emotional release. As we start feeling scared, our heart beats faster. We might perspire or get anxious. Yelling at a scary moment in the movie can make us feel like we’ve let all that tension out.  

The same is true for scream therapy, proponents say. Screaming with a purpose can release endorphins in our brains, just like a heart-thumping cardio workout. It can release mental stress and make the body feel less tense. Some people say after giving a primal scream, their body feels limp. They feel tired. Their brain feels relaxed, and definitely less stressed. 

A pandemic response. Scream therapy seemed to make a resurgence in popularity during the lockdown portion of the COVID-19 pandemic. The spread of the illness caused anxiety for lots of people, but as social circles were forced to get smaller, many said they felt closed-in and reported feeling tense or having decreased levels of mental health. Social media posts talking about primal screams became more common. Group scream-ins were held – and recorded – in public. Done in a group, scream therapy turned into a bonding moment for some people.  

Short-term benefit. Health experts say there is an immediate benefit to scream therapy for some people – as long as the screaming is done as a yell and not directed in words at anyone. It also should not be done without a warning in front of others, and never in front of small children, as it might scare and confuse them. If letting out a holler into a pillow or when you’re alone in your house or car makes you feel better, then go for it. But medical professionals caution that scream therapy is not a long-term solution to mental health issues. It can be hard on the throat and also should not be used as a long-term coping mechanism.  

If people are currently using scream therapy as an emotional release and find themselves doing it more frequently, it’s good to talk to your health care provider about some more sustainable methods for reducing anxiety and improving mental health.  

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Photo credit: Getty Images

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