How to utilise rhythm and reflection in both therapeutic and educational settings – Q&A

faulkner-rythmntorecovery-c2wIn our recent release, Rhythm to Recovery, you can discover how to utilise rhythm and reflection in both therapeutic and educational settings to improve well-being. To celebrate the release of Rhythm to Recovery, we caught up with Simon Faulkner to talk all things music therapy and his new book!

What motivated you to write Rhythm to Recovery?

I have been working as a counsellor for close to 20 years and recognised the limitations of traditional ‘talk based’ models that most therapists, including myself, are trained in at University. I and many others have struggled to engage individuals who are shy or withdrawn or just feel uncomfortable talking to strangers, and music had been a great avenue for me to work with people and build the trust needed to support them through challenging periods in their life – so I guess my main motivation was to get that out there; to let people know of the benefits of music as a therapeutic medium and to give them practical tools to utilise it.


What do you think it is about music that has the potential to be rehabilitative and healing?

Music works on a number of fronts, but it is also important to recognise that if applied poorly it can work against any therapeutic intent. For example, loud and fast music can be over stimulating and cause anxiety for young people who are already emotionally sensitive.

In my practice playing music together is used to connect people, as in a shared activity, and to explore a range of areas impacting their  lives. Playing music together utilises a range of social skills, such as communication and teamwork skills, that can be developed through practice and insight. Music is a language of emotion, so it can be used to help people express their feelings in safe and constructive ways. And music also impacts parts of the brain linked to impulse control and motor coordination and can thus be used to help people get control of feelings driven by unconscious responses and improve physical balance.


What is unique about drumming that makes it a perfect outlet for those undergoing therapy?

We use drumming primarily because it is the most accessible form of playing music; success is almost instantaneous, whereas most other instruments require hours of practice. Drumming is also quite physical, so it helps in a cathartic way, allowing people to release pent up emotion. There is also a growing body of evidence showcasing how rhythmic music, like drumming, impacts the brain and can help reduce anxiety – this is based on the theory that in utero the overriding stimulus was the mothers heartbeat and that rhythms of a similar tempo continue throughout life to offer a sense of safety and security.


What is the most challenging thing about using drumming in music therapy?

Probably the most challenging thing is overriding people’s preconceptions that they are not musical or have no rhythm – ideas usually formed from negative experiences in music classes during their childhood. The competitive nature of music as taught in many schools means that even today many people  move away from playing music and the many social and emotional benefits it offers. Even highly competent musicians give up their instruments because of the pressures and judgements that surround music today – many of us are working to change that; taking back music from the specialists and putting it at the centre of community.


In your book, you mention that drumming improved groupwork, as it develops a sense of belonging. How important do you think this sense of community is to therapeutic recovery?

I think this is a huge issue for society generally and critical to recovery  – more and more people find themselves socially isolated, looking for a sense of belonging. Many of the disorders we work with in therapy have this as their main side effect. Playing hand drums  together bonds people almost immediately as their rhythms sync, and at the same time avoids many of the dividing judgements that come with language. However, in order for this sense of connection to be lasting we need the reflective element of the program to help people transfer this element to other areas of their lives – you can’t be playing drums all the time!


You also mention in your book that practitioners who want to follow the Rythym2Recovery model should find their own style. How important is it to develop your own style as a practitioner and how does this impact participants?

No model of therapy is set in stone and the Rhythm2Recovery model offers people a flexible template to incorporate rhythmic music into their work. Each practitioner has their own skill set, and strengths and it is important that they can adapt their practice to take advantage of this, as well as meet the needs of the different individuals they are supporting. When a practitioner can do this, their work benefits, they are more confident, more natural, more genuine and undoubtedly happier. These qualities rub off on those they work with and lead to better outcomes.


What are you hoping readers will take away from the book?

First and foremost I hope people will find the book practical – it is a book based on my work, on the ground, with high risk youth and adults, in schools, mental health clinics, in prisons etc. It was written for the practitioner, not as an academic text. Secondly I hope it adds a little more weight to the standing of these types of experiential approaches and in particular the power of music to heal. There is a lot of vested interest in the therapy professions in maintaining the dominance of the western cognitive model, despite more and more research detailing its limitations. Almost all other cultures move away from words in their traditional healing practices and it is only very recently that western science is substantiating why that may be.We need multiple approaches to deal with the complexities of modern life, and this is one more tool that can be beneficial.


To read more about the book, or to buy the book, please click here.

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