Drum-Assisted Therapy Aims to Beat Substance Abuse

By Brunk, Doug | Clinical Psychiatry News, April 2013 | Go to article overview

Drum-Assisted Therapy Aims to Beat Substance Abuse


Brunk, Doug, Clinical Psychiatry News


American Indians and Alaska Natives with substance abuse disorders who participated in a 12-week drum-assisted therapy program experienced significant improvements in mental health and psychological characteristics, as measured by the Addiction Severity Index, Native American Version.

The findings, which stem from the first federally funded study of its kind, hold promise as a way to weave cultural traditions into addiction treatment efforts. -Throughout the United States, tribal leaders, elders, substance abuse providers, and administrators who serve this population feel there's a need for more cultural-based treatments in general for Native Americans, including drumming or sweat lodge or bead making," said Dr. Daniel L. Dickerson, an assistant research psychiatrist with the integrated substance abuse programs at the University of California, Los Angeles.

About 5 years ago, Dr. Dickerson, whose mother is an Alaska Native from the Inupiaq indigenous group, devised a plan with a substance abuse counselor to create a drum-assisted therapy program for American Indians/Alaska Natives. With a research grant from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Dickerson and his colleagues conducted six focus groups and enrolled five men and five women in a program that incorporated drumming activities within a culturally relevant format that took place during 3-hour treatment sessions twice per week for 12 weeks. During the first session, the study participants built a powwow drum they used as the focus of their treatment.

"For Native Americans, the drum is a very sacred instrument," explained Dr. Dickerson, also an assistant research psychiatrist at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. "It symbolizes what many Native Americans describe as being the heartbeat of Mother Earth, so to speak.

"So when they make the drum, they have the opportunity to learn about the purposes and history of the tribal traditions in drumming. When they make the drum, they feel like they have a sense of ownership in their own recovery process."

Participants in the UCLA open trial ranged from 19 to 67 years of age and underwent assessments at baseline, 6 weeks, and 12 weeks, including urine drug screens and breathalyzer tests, and the Addiction Severity Index, Native American Version, to assess mental health and psychosocial characteristics. …

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