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Therapeutic Applications for Integrating Rhythm and Reflection in Support of People with Co-occurring Drug and Alcohol and Mental Health Issues

Simon C. Faulkner

This article examines the use of rhythmic music in support of people managing co-occuring drug abuse and mental health conditions, and is based on the authors 15 years’ experience as a group counsellor working in this field. Expressive therapies are gaining increasing traction as respected intervention techniques for this client group, as the limits of ‘talk-based’ approaches are exposed. This is particularly true for engaging people in treatment who find discussions confronting or who are uncomfortable with language, including many individuals from minority cultures. Rhythmic music, using hand drums and percussion, is one of the simplest forms of music to introduce into a therapeutic setting and is particularly suited to group therapy. Recent neurological research has showcased the positive impact of rhythmic music for people who have experienced trauma, improving emotional regulation and reducing stress and anxiety associated with relapse. Additionally, experiential therapies such as drumming offer an important balance in residential treatment settings where people may be attending several therapy sessions per day; the result of which can be mental exhaustion. Physical therapies such as drumming can help re-energise clients in these situations, as well as those on sedative medications.

Many services resist the introduction of music into their treatment programs due to a perceived lack of expertise or lack of confidence. This article argues that music is too important as a therapeutic healing tool to be left solely to the musical expert, and that many musical exercises, particularly those with a psycho-educational focus that utilise simple rhythmic hand drumming, can be utilised by therapists, with very little musical training, in a fun, empowering and effective way.