Millions are tuning into YouTube to watch ‘artists’ gently whisper into their webcams while either performing completely mundane tasks like playing with a hair brush, or conducting ‘fantasy role plays’ in the latest online therapy trend that claims to de-stress, solve sleep issues, and even treat depression and post traumatic stress disorder.
It’s called Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response therapy and if you don’t “experience” it, then it’s as boring as it sounds.
‘The Whispering Mum’, as ASMR therapist Lauren Ostrowski Fenton is known, explained to news.com.au that ASMR isn’t effective for everyone, but for those who feel it, it’s magic.
Ms Ostrowski Fenton, a career therapist who has just completed her masters in counselling, admits she was sceptical herself when she heard of ASMR.
“I thought it was weird when I first came across it because it’s so alternative,” she tells news.com.au.
“I thought, ‘Why is that person whispering?’. It was weird. But after I experienced it properly I thought, ‘I like the way they’re whispering’, then I really liked it, and after a while I made the decision to do it myself.”
Since jumping in to ASMR and starting her own YouTube channel, the Whispering Mum has gained millions of followers, joining the ranks of US artist ‘Maria’, whose videos can garner more than 10 million views.
Believers in ASMR, Ms Fenton explains, experience a release of chemicals brought on by the calming tones.
“Whether its ceratonin, melatonin or OxyContin, it has an effect on people — not everyone — that takes a person back to a childhood memory that’s comforting,” she says.
“If your mother tapped her fingers, brushed your hair, looked into your eyes, those are communication symbols that elicit a response, and when someone has that sensation they fall asleep very quickly.”
As well as assisting with sleep, Ms Fenton says her videos and one-one-one sessions in which she “just listens” to people, either live or recorded, or does “a number of role plays where I’m a personal trainer, a life coach or a counsellor”, also helps with more serious issues.
“I get people who say it’s relieved their depressions, they’ve decided not to kill themselves ... It helps a lot with PTSD,” she says.
Ms Fenton and others who practice ASMR realise there’s no scientific study in the area that has decided whether it works or is suitable to treat these conditions.
In the psychology world, this has also been acknowledged, with many vocal members declaring ASMR “a load of crap”.
“It’s not listed in evidence-based therapies by any national bodies, it seems like something someone dreamt up to make a quick buck,” says clinical psychologist Bob Montgomery.
Dr Montgomery says that he’s wary of new treatments like ASMR, saying not only can they be ineffective, but potentially also damaging.
“What we have to do when people come to us after going through experimental treatments they believe can help them, is undo that damage. It’s not just useless, it makes them think there’s something terribly wrong with them,” he said.
“It’s fine if all you want to do is relax temporarily, but it’s not gong to have any lasting effects.”
Dr Montgomery recommended those seeking treatment for depression, PTSD, or any sleep disorders see a GP and get a referral.
Ms Fenton says ASMR is not supposed to be a magic solution to any of these issues.
“It’s not a miracle — it’s like a massage,” she says.
“But it’s not something small, it’s massive. As far as I know there’s no study being done at the moment. I don’t believe there’s any real research to anything that’s been done.”