Drumming for Health

For thousands of years, numerous cultures have used drums for celebrations, rites of passage and as healing tools. Recently, drum fever has been sweeping the country as people discover the spiritual, psychological and physical benefits of drumming.

In hospitals, nursing homes and centers for the elderly, drums are being used to ward off depression and loneliness among patients and as a therapeutic tool in the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Drums have also been used with veterans who have experienced post–traumatic stress syndrome and patients in drug and alcohol recovery programs. In addition, drums are being used to help corporate executives relieve their stress and as a way to help adolescents release anger.

The United Special Committee on Aging notes that the natural by-products [of the use of rhythm and drumming] are increased self-esteem, and the resulting sense of empowerment, creativity, and the enhanced ability to focus the mind, not to mention it is just plain fun.

Some of the other benefits of drumming include immediate reduction in feelings of loneliness and alienation, being able to relate to others non-verbally, the development of leadership skills, expressing anger in a constructive format, stress relief, expanding social and personal connections, developing ideas for constructive leisure time activities and experiencing the creative process through improvisation.

One of the individuals who has brought drumming as a therapeutic tool into corporations, high schools and hospitals is Robert Lawrence Friedman, MA. Mr. Friedman is a therapist, drummer and Remo Artist.

Friedman believes drumming is very beneficial in reducing stress. “By hitting a drum, an individual is placed immediately into the ‘here and now.’  When a person is in the present moment, it is very difficult to be stressed, for stress generally occurs when a person is thinking about the past or future in some negative way. Secondly, the drum grounds a person into his or her body. When people are stressed, they are generally in their minds, thinking about something negative. Through hitting the drum, a person’s conscious awareness is immediately placed solidly into their body. When a person is focused on her or her body, it is very difficult to be stressed. This same experience will occur when a person is involved in an aerobic activity or exercise. Thirdly, the drum gives a person a sense of personal power. The drum allows people to release tactilely their negative emotions and stress, in many ways like hitting a pillow as a way of releasing anger.

“Drumming also gives us physical vitality because it is a very physical activity. It gets our heart pounding, our blood flowing and releases the endorphins (the pleasure hormones, that are associated with “runners high”).”

“Drumming is also great fun!  It’s a great way to feel the pure joy of being alive. Drumming by ourselves allows us to move deeply into our true nature by eliminating distractions and societal constraints. Drumming with others is a universally time-honored way to creating a feeling of community and trust. Drumming is simply one of life’s many gifts.”

Friedman discovered the idea of using drums for therapeutic purposes through his own experience. As a drummer of 25 years, he reaped many psychological, emotional and spiritual benefits through playing his drums.  He wondered if the benefits he received could be enjoyed by others. Believing that they could, he created the innovative concept, Drumming Away Stress which he first introduced at the New Age Health Spa in upstate New York  Due to its success at the spa, he branched out to high schools, corporations and hospitals. In all of these venues, people never fail to find joy, stress relief and in one amazing case, even a healing experience.

In 1993, Friedman offered his program to a Fortune 500 company based in New York. In the middle of the program as everyone was drumming, a well-respected vice-president spontaneously got out of his chair and began dancing around the room to the sound of the drums. One week later, Friedman received a call from the executive informing him that a chronic back problem that he had for over six years had disappeared. Six months later in a follow up call, the vice president continued to report no pain in his back.

This vice president’s experience highlights a recognition that is emerging in our society — that offering individuals alternative means of healing is gaining importance. In recognition of this concept, St. Mary’s Hospital in Hoboken, New Jersey created a Department of Complementary Therapies. The department is directed by Dr. Shi-Hong Loh, a respected oncologist at the hospital and coordinated by Rick Evans, Vice President of Mission Services. The department offers such programs as Tai Chi, Guided Visualization, Yoga and Drumming for Health. The department sponsors workshops and lectures for the community. For more information, please call (201) 418-1616.  Through St. Mary’s Hospital, Dr. Michael Swerdlow, Executive Director of the Psychology Department, is working with Friedman to initiate programs for adolescents and anger management issues and other community-related issues.

Drums have been used very successfully with high school populations. Kay Sherwood Roskam, Ph.D., took drums to Harborview Adolescent Center. The young people she worked with were being treated for a variety of behavioral difficulties associated with inner city teenage life. In choosing the group to work with, Roskam asked for the toughest problem kids. After working with the drums, all students made positive behavioral changes and three boys improved dramatically, showing improvements in maturation, self-esteem and positive social interaction.

Assistant Principal, Jeff Sherr from Francis Lewis High School in Queens, New York asked Friedman to bring his Drumming Away Anger program initially for classes in conflict resolution, but quickly expanded its use to include adolescents-at-risk. Friedman has been using drumming at this high school as a way to help adolescents express anger and increase their self-esteem.

The numerous populations that have been discussed in this article, from the elderly to troubled youths, from patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, to high schools and corporate America, brings to mind a recent quote by Rick Evans from St. Mary’s Hospital. Regarding the use of drums as a therapeutic vehicle, Rick states “I can’t think of any avenue where drumming wouldn’t be appropriate.”