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Drum Therapy

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Drum Therapy

Perhaps you have heard of equine therapy used in the treatment of substance abuse. It involves riding, caring for and working with horses, according to the Timberline Knolls website (they’re in Illinois). Before I blog about how Malibu Beach Recovery Center clients have benefitted from this type of therapy, there’s another type of therapy used in the treatment of substance abuse that I just learned about — drum therapy.  The website makes some pretty hefty claims about it:  that for certain groups, one of which is those recovering from substance abuse, it “produces feelings of well-being, a release of emotional trauma, and reintegration of self.” It goes on to say that drumming reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and “induces deep relaxation.” According to research, drum therapy also promotes deeper self-awareness. (That benefit has quite a long explanation on the site.)

Michelle Mangione.jpgShould you need convincing, you only need to talk to a few MBRC clients who have already participated in a family weekend, or two.  Drumming is part of every family weekend there, with songwriter/musician Michelle Mangione, one of the few professional women drummers in the US. She has been sober for 28 years.  We first wrote about her when she teamed with Grace Slick to support musicians and fishermen impacted by the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill.  Michelle leads the drum activity at MBRC, which she terms a workshop. She’s been teaching drumming since age 16. Here’s what she said when I asked her to explain how drumming helps those in recovery:

“Drumming is therapeutic in many ways. There have been studies about how drumming/music can alter your brain chemistry – somewhat like meditation. I am not a therapist, but I have played and taught music since I was a child (come to think of it, I’ve also been in therapy that long). I use my own personal experiences with music and recovery from addiction to fuel my workshops. To me, music has affected my life much like meditation. It can be very soothing. We use repetitive rhythmic motions which are calming, much like taking a nice walk. Bi-lateral movement has an effect on the body, mind and spirit.

“When Joan approached me to do a family group, I thought it sounded like an interesting idea, based on the dynamics of families with addiction. The first session was so “right” in so many ways. I couldn’t have planned it that way. Most of my sessions will start focused, and take twists and turns based on where I feel the room needs to go at that moment.

“It’s hard to plan every piece. That’s why I use the term “workshop”. I usually start with introductions and tell a piece of my recovery story and how I started doing workshops. Then we get down to business. I usually ask if anyone has reservations about participating. Some people are reluctant or fearful. No one has to do anything in my class, but usually by the end of the session everyone participates in some way.Michelle and Grace Grammyphoto.jpg

“Depending on the day, I demonstrate various instruments including percussion, hand drums, guitar, cello, and harmonium. I try to bring lots of instruments – not just percussion. Then I have the clients pass the instruments around and learn each one individually. We work with speaking and listening and with expression, concentration, “musical meditation”, singing, repeating. Sometimes we even write a song.

“Once, around the Holidays, we re-wrote “The 12 Days of Christmas” and it became “The 12 Days of Treatment”. The clients in the class wrote the lyrics. The first line was “On the first day of treatment my rehab gave to me – a locked box to hold all my keys”! We have fun. That’s why it became the last session of family weekend. It is fun, light, and (hopefully) non-threatening. It’s just a safe place to get creative, be a bit of a dork, and laugh at ourselves.

“The biggest comment I get is, “Thanks, that was not at all what I expected.” Clients are usually very grateful. Of course it’s not always easy, because we all have egos, especially in treatment! I ask that we leave our egos outside the door, assured that they will be waiting for us on the way out! People sometimes have said that it was therapeutic even though it wasn’t therapy. People often comment that it was fun, and they learned a lot.”

Casey, an MRBC alum, and Kevin, a current client, have both attended drum therapy on family weekend. Casey plays drums himself, and said he thought it was cool seeing the families interacting with each other. “Drumming puts me in a calm frame of mind.  It helps me with my feelings, makes me less nervous in front of people,” he said.

He noted that drum therapy broke down barriers for the families. They were given parts to play, and when they played the parts all together, “it was a neat experience. Everyone was laughing and talking more afterward,” he remembered.

Drum therapy allowed Kevin to see a different side of his family, who became more spontaneous and creative when drumming. He summed the experience up nicely. “People at MBRC come from all walks of life, from the corporate world, to blue collar jobs. Music therapy is ‘the common denominator,’ he mused.


(above):  Michelle Mangione.

(below) Grace Slick and Michelle Mangione with former KLOS DJ Jim Ladd.

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