Brain Science and Updates From the Field

Clients at Stairways program find rhythm in class

Monday, July 25, 2016

Every other Sunday, clients at Stairways Behavioral Health’s Residential Treatment Facility for Adults are encouraged to march to the beat of their own drum.

In fact, finding one’s inner rhythm is the idea therapist Megan Paterson had in mind when she created RTFA’s Therapeutic Drumming class.

Even if it’s only for between an hour to 90 minutes every two weeks, the program provides a respite to the traditional forms of psychiatric care—something clients and clinicians welcome as beneficial.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results, so with this we are doing something different,” Paterson said of bringing drumming to RTFA. “A lot of people here have been treated for mental illness for so long and have had many of the same treatments for a long time.

“This is something different that has had a positive effect on them.”

Whether clients are able to find a tempo that suits them best or if they’re just talking out some frustration when they slap the drum, the class yields instant results. Paterson said clients report feeling less stressed at the end of a session and are less likely to negatively respond to in damaging ways.

One client, she said, rated her happiness at a zero prior to the session. But after taking part in the class, her assessment had increased to seven.

“The response from clients has been amazing.” Paterson said.

Lynn Johnson (above), who works as a behavior specialist for the Erie School District and is locally renowned for his work as a drum circle facilitator, leads the biweekly Sunday group sessions.

After hauling more than a dozen of his traditional African hand drums into the RTFA’s East 29th Street’s building, Johnson’s main focus in leading the group is to help clients to increase awareness by finding a natural and relaxing tempo.

“Lynn emphasizes to find your own rhythm and begins by telling you to go back to your most basic beat, which is the heartbeat you feel from your mother,” Paterson said. “The No. 1 thing is to listen and find your own beat to be aware of. If you can’t do that you will struggle to get into a rhythm.”

Following each session, RTFA clients and staff convene to evaluate and discuss how the session affected each participant.

Sharing the experience creates sense of unity among those who take part, Paterson said.

“The whole idea is to make a connection,” Paterson said. “It’s making a connection through the drums that helps to form a sense of belonging and restore hope.”

Though it is currently in a temporary pilot stage, Paterson is hopeful to use the outcomes collected from the drumming program to help provide evidence of the program’s effectiveness to gain further sources of funds.

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