Drumming Therapy at Bridges to Recovery in Pacific Palisades

Drumming Group

What is the Drumming Group?
Why is Drumming effective?
What happens if someone is reluctant to engage in the group?
What should the Drumming group accomplish?
Drumming Therapist at Bridges to Recovery

What is the Drumming Group?
Drumming is one of the earliest forms of communication in human experience and our residential
treatment program integrates this group as one of the components of our holistic treatment
approach. The use of meditative drumming allows an individual to explore their thoughts and
feelings in a nonverbal manner and heal emotional wounds. Recent research has found that
drumming in combination with spoken affirmations can provide individuals with stress relief,
physical relief, and emotional expression. During our residential program, we find that people who
struggle to express themselves in a more typical psychotherapy manner (i.e. verbal expression
of feelings) gravitate toward the Drumming group as a way of finding their voice and developing
images to connect to their unknown feelings and thoughts.

One might think of the Drumming group as one where members are encouraged to participate in
an activity that will most likely be unknown to them but where they are supported and encouraged
to “deal with sophisticated feelings while drumming in a laid back groove” as encouraged by
the Drumming leader, Russell Buddy Helm. Mr. Helm provides the group with the materials
needed for the group and will discuss with them the process of drumming as a therapeutic
medium as the group progresses. Members are encouraged to explore the medium of drumming
as the members of the group develop the quiet rhythm. Following the group, Mr. Helm often
communicates the experiences of the group members to the clinical team so that themes
and issues raised during the group can be integrated into the clients’ ongoing psychotherapy
discussions. Additionally, for those clients that find the drumming to be a helpful adjunct to their
program day, we encourage them to engage in the activity during off-program times and make
materials available to them as needed.

Why is Drumming so effective?
Our treatment team believes that drumming is an integral aspect of the treatment program in
that it provides an entirely different medium for the expression of feelings and thoughts. We
found that when clients found many ways of expressing and exploring their issues (i.e. verbal
and nonverbal) they could approach problems and underlying issues more successfully. The
nontraditional approach toward expression of feelings is an excellent example of how clients
who find themselves unable to discuss painful experiences flourish in an environment free from
judgment and filled with empathy and compassion. For example, a client who experienced a
strong resistance to verbally expressing her frustration with her inability to adaptively manage
her bipolar disorder, found herself drumming in with a cyclical manner, re-creating her internal
experience of her frequent mood shifts. The client was then able to bring into her individual
therapy session how the use of the drum and the meditative aspects of the group allowed her to
find a sense of stability that she sought to integrate into her daily activities. The metaphor of the
drum became a powerful image for the individual as she progressed through her treatment and
learned the skills necessary to move toward emotional stability and interpersonal growth.

We find that the encouragement to express musically whatever comes to mind is the most
valuable to the Drumming experience. Too often, clients are told how to feel or when to express
issues that can often feel controlling and artificial. The encouragement to drum whatever is felt
is often discussed as a liberating statement from the therapist where there is only acceptance of
what is created.

What happens if someone is reluctant to engage in the group?
Some individuals will discuss that they “are not musical” and have no interest in participating.
Our experience has been that if someone is at least open to picking up a drum and creating what
they feel inside, they gain a tremendous amount of benefit. It is often the client who is the most
reluctant to engage that benefits the most from the group as they can reflect upon their resistance
and the learning obtained as a way to overcome other, more daunting obstacles in their outside

What should the Drumming group accomplish?
Drumming should provide an individual with a different way in which to explore their issues and
encourage them to explore nonverbal means of expressing their thoughts and feelings. We find
this group to be a very useful adjunct to the individual therapy as the expression of underlying
issues is often seen in the music created.

Our small milieu of six individuals in each residential program allows for each person to have the
time and opportunity to express their feelings with enough time to feel heard and understood.
Many individuals report feelings of increased self-worth and the ability to identify underlying
traumas in their lives that they wish to change and feel empowered to begin to work upon when
they leave the residential program with the new skill of nonverbal expression of the trauma(s).

In addition, we find that individuals in our residential treatment program report and an increase
in their ability to verbalize feelings and traumas that created difficulty for them reaching their
goals and a strong desire to return to their outside providers with an increase in their emotional
vocabulary, mental strength, desire and move toward a more fulfilling life.

Bridges to Recovery utilizes clinicians who are highly experienced therapists who demonstrate a
strong motivation to help clients reach their full potential and reach their goals and dreams.

Drumming Instructor at Bridges to Recovery

Russell “Buddy” Helm

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