Education/teachers, Foster care, High Risk Adolescents, Residential Care

A powerful beat: Using drumming to treat complex trauma

Practitioners working with traumatised young people are well aware of the importance of patterned repetitive activity (PRA) in treating complex trauma. Two recent publications have focused on the role of drumming or ‘drum therapy’ as a form of PRA:

Bruce Perry is probably the most cited thinker on the importance on PRA in treating complex trauma. A brief summary of his approach can be found here.

The podcast provides an overview of the theory behind the efficacy of drumming and features a demonstration of the technique plus an interview with a young person who was a participant in a drumming group.

Simon Faulkner’s book provides a more in-depth explanation on why drumming is effective and, most importantly, provides a comprehensive ‘how to’ guide for Practitioners that may want to use the approach in their day-to-day work with clients.

Delivery of the program

Drum therapy is delivered in one of two ways. A hired expert from a company like Rhythm 2 Rhythm or Holyoak (their program is called DRUMBEAT) can come to your organisation to conduct drumming sessions with your client group. Alternatively, these companies train your staff to run the sessions with clients. Both have a role but I am more interested in the latter. The rationale is that the life of traumatised young people is so chaotic that turning up to a ‘drum therapy’ session for one hour every week, e.g. at 11:00 AM on a Wednesday for 10 weeks in a row, would be almost impossible. However, if Practitioners could conduct the drumming themselves, they could use this technique in an impromptu manner.

Training in Drum Therapy

A number of organisations provide training in the drumming approach at a reasonable price. For example, Rhythm2Recovery (i.e. Simon Faulkner’s company) provides a two-day training session for $590. Holyoak offer their DRUMBEAT program through a three-day program at $895 and an online program for $995. I am sure there are other companies out there providing similar training. Holyoak sell individual drums (called Djembe drums) for between $229 and $425 but you can find them on EBay from around $20.

The evidence base

The fact that PRA are important in treating complex trauma is beyond reasonable doubt. Drumming is a form of PRA that young people are likely to find attractive. Providers of drum therapy are commercial businesses so the ‘buyer beware’ caveat applies. See here for evidence to that end. Personally, my view is that the providers are more than a bit evangelical about drumming and over-state their case. Nonetheless, if there is sufficient interest I might review the evidence at another time.

I like the approach as it is something that Practitioners – be they foster carers, resi workers, youth justice workers or teachers – can do with young people on an ad hoc basis and, most importantly, unlike some interventions, it probably can do no harm to your clients even if implemented badly.

Question for Practitioners

In your experience, do children/YP in the OoHC and YJ systems attend the ‘drumming’ sessions on regular basis? Please tell us your experience using the ‘Comments’ function.

Take outs for Practitioners

  • If you are new to the field, the podcast would be a good place to start to gain an understanding of drum therapy.
  • If you want to try drum therapy in your practice with clients, Simon Faulkner’s book is a great starting point.

About graemembaird

I am a psychologist with a special interest in improving the outcomes of families, children and young people in the Out of Home Care and Juvenile Justice systems.
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