Therapeutic Drumming with Michael Fitzsimmons

        I was fortunate enough to experience a drumming session with Michael Fitzsimmons. He created an atomosphere of music and rhythm for a group of physically and mentally disabled adults. He brought with him dozens of drumming devices to share with the adults. Whether the adult was blind, completely paralyzed, or had experienced a traumatic brain injury, each person was able to participate in the group drumming. It was amazing to see the looks of joy in some of the people participating. I am sure the look came from being able to participate with a group of people and create beautiful music. Though Michael was the central beat throughout most of the experience, each person's contribution made the drumming session complete.

        It was fun to think of ways that drumming could be incoporated into occupational therapy practice. Drumming is a potentially an activity that would motivate a client to participate in therapy. Through the activity of drumming fine motor skills could be improved. The varying drums present different fine and gross motor challenges. For those who struggle with hyper-responsiveness to audio stimuli, therapuetic drumming may be used for desensitization. This activity was also very interactive and in group therapy, social interaction skills could be worked with use of therapeutic drumming.

        One of my favorite people to watch was a young man who was completely blind. Though he could not see what was going on, it seemed to me that he was experiencing the drumming on a deeper level than the people who could see. He became fully engaged in listening to the beat that Michael was giving and followed suit with his miniature drum. He kept on beat and the entire time had a huge smilie on his face. Had this young man been the only one who showed up for the group, it would have been worthwhile just to see the joy and contentment in his face.

       This experience made me think of  what a special gift it is to bring music into a  person's life. Being able to actively participate in creating music is a unique experience that is good for the soul. According to Hays (2006) music can enhance one's quality of life and it can also provide an escape from reality if needed.  While discussing his findings from a study with adults with special needs, Hays (2006) writes "Many of the informants spoke of how they used music as a form of self-therapy when they were feeling stressed, tired or even as part of their daily health routine. Music was seen as a way of lifting energy levels, reducing tiredness and tension, and in some cases to help with their recuperation after illness or surgery" (Hays, 2006, p.59). All of these findings could potentially be used in occupational therapy practice as an adjunct to other interventions. For example, if a client is feeling extra stressed while in therapy, his/her favorite music could be played during or before therapy.


Hays, T. (2006). Facilitating well-being through music for older people with special needs. Home Health Care Services Quarterly, 25, 55-73.

Photo Credit: Blake Ihrke and Yolanda Griffiths

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