Sitting on a sofa in a cool fifth-floor Rego Park apartment
last week, Pat Lavin held an African djembe drum between her knees and waited
The hypnotherapist, speaker and writer had traveled to Queens from
Westchester for what was to be a novel experience, one that she hoped would
help mitigate grief that years of conventional therapy had failed to relieve.
Seated facing Lavin, Robert Lawrence Friedman, a psychotherapist, stress
management consultant and drummer, rested his hands lightly on a similar djembe
"As you breathe, I want you to get a sense of your breath and a sense of
your heartbeat, the rhythm," Friedman said softly.
"Right now, the only focus is the breath," he continued. "It is one way of
coming into the present. So much stress is in the past. All I want you to do is
take a deep breath, letting go of everything, all expectations, all thoughts,
nothing to do, nowhere to go, just simply to be here, right here, with the
With his right hand, Friedman gently patted his djembe's taut, goat-skin
top, releasing a deep, resonant "boom."
Tentatively, Lavin, with her eyes closed, copied his action. "Boom! Boom!"
A smile lit up her face.
"Feel the top of the drum. Get acquainted with it," Friedman said, as he
added a contrapuntal beat and together they improvised an infectious rhythm in
Lavin had picked out her drum from among paddle drums, log drums, congas,
doumbeks, ashikos, buffalo drums and other hand drums from around the world in
Friedman's collection. She was immediately taken with the round, full-bodied
sound that emanated from the djembe.
"There's no right way to play this drum. There's no wrong way. Just simply
let yourself go completely," Friedman said. "Anything you do is fine."
Lavin pounded the drum, more energetically each time. The sounds rose to a
crescendo then trailed off as she slowed her tempo. Enjoying a feeling of
gratification, she let out a slow, quiet sigh.
"Allow your eyes to open when you are ready," Friedman said gently.
The first exercise in a healing drum therapy session was over, a
combination of guided imagery and activity that leaves participants feeling
energized yet relaxed and centered, according to Friedman, 44.
Lavin had read "The Healing Power of the Drum," by Friedman (White Cliffs
Media, 2001), and made an appointment to participate in his "Drumming Away
Stress" program, which he details in the book.
Lavin, a faculty member at the Seminar Center for Adult Education in
Manhattan, turned to the ancient practice of healing with the drum that is
being embraced by a widening circle of people who believe in its efficacy.
Friedman - who has a contract with the St. Barnabas Health Care System in
New Jersey to help its 36,000 employees manage stress - is part of the growing
movement. (More than 7,000 copies of his books have been sold.)
Drumming is a healthy exercise that is being scientifically documented as a
beneficial component of the health field, he said.
He cited Dr. Barry Bittman, a neurologist affiliated with the Mind-Body
Wellness Center in Meadville, Pa. Bittman was involved in what he called the
first scientific study that looked at drumming's effects on the immune system.
In the study, published in the December 2000 issue of The Alternative
Therapies in Health and Medicine Journal, Bittman demonstrated that group
drumming significantly boosted the body's immune system and increased activity
in cells that can kill some tumor cells, according to Friedman.
"I've had the opportunity to offer music as a therapeutic intervention to
our patients suffering from some of the most challenging illnesses imaginable,"
Bittman says in "Deep Within: Drumming as a Healing Strategy," an article on
his Web site, www.mind-body.org.
"People all over the world are searching for ways to build upon the
biological, psychological and sociological benefits of group drumming," Bittman
Barry Bernstein, a Kansas City, Mo., music therapist and owner of a
business called Healthy Sounds, has been using drumming for 10 years.
"I've worked with children with learning disabilities, autism and attention
deficit disorder," he said. "Alzheimer's patients respond to the vibrotactile
Work Bernstein has done with the Veterans Administration in Topeka, Kan.,
showed drumming to be "a very effective tool" with people in drug and alcohol
recovery who he said get a "drummer's high" that replaces their need for a
"high" from drugs or alcohol.
Friedman's Rego Park business, Stress Solutions, offers such programs as
"Drumming for Anger," and "Drum Circles for Health" where he introduces
corporate executives, patients, students and even prisoners to the healing
power of the drum. Drum circles are groups of individual drummers who gather in
a circle and play drums and other rhythm instruments to express their
creativity and release stress.
Friedman was hard-pressed during extensive research with music therapists,
physicians and medical organizations for his book "to find a population or
ailment that wasn't positively affected by drumming," including children,
senior citizens, stressed executives, veterans with post-traumatic stress
disorder, and Parkinson's patients. "The drums seem to have the capacity to
transform negative to positive, anger and grief to joy," the book says.
Friedman's involvement with drumming began in his childhood.
"My mother told me I drummed in her womb," he says in his book.
When Friedman was 6, his father gave him a drum practice pad and two wooden
drumsticks. "From that moment forward, my life was in the hands of rhythm."
When he received from Hunter College his certification in psychosynthesis -
a holistic approach to psychotherapy - and began counseling, he said, "I
realized that merging my two loves, drumming and psychology, was my true path."
He began to discover the psychological and physiological changes that occur
"Whenever I have felt stressed or angry, the drums were the vehicle that
enabled me to pound out my emotions and feel relief," he said. "My negative
emotions seem to flow out through my hands and into my taut-skinned wooden
Wanting to test on others benefits he received from drumming, Friedman in
1986 took 100 hand drums to the New Age Health Spa in upstate Neversink and
held a one-hour drumming workshop. "Two years at the spa and hundreds of new
drummers later convinced me that I had something that worked," he said.
"As a drum facilitator and psychotherapist, I have personally witnessed the
power of the drum to relax the tense, energize the tired and heal the
emotionally wounded," he writes in his book. "I have also observed the hand
drum's extraordinary ability to create states of euphoria, induce trance,
promote play, release anger and promote feelings of community and unity."
"Everybody can play, because it requires no training to create exuberant
and expressive sounds," Friedman goes on. "No matter what you play, it will
In the book's foreword, Dr. Shi-Hong Loh, director of the Complementary
Therapy Department at the Bon Secours New Jersey Health System, observes, "In
our body, we have a lot of organs that are capable of producing their own
rhythms. ... What should we expect when the rhythm of the drum meets the rhythm
of the muscle, brain or heart?" asks Loh, who agrees that drumming can enhance
The book also quotes master drummer Babatunde Olatunji, who says, "The
sound of the drum resonates with an inner chord that vibrates through your
whole body, so that when you go through the act of drumming, you are energizing
every cell in your body."
But while drumming can be of great benefit, it can also have harmful
effects with some populations, such as autistic people who may be
overstimulated, Friedman cautioned.
For Lavin, however, the drum has become a new outlet for her long pent-up
emotions. A divorce, and having to place her daughter - who was born with spina
bifida 32 years ago - in an out-of-state group home, had led to clinical
depression and a breakdown, Lavin said.
Her feeling when she made her appointment with Friedman was that the
drumming would be "a side thing" in her therapy, she said. The experience gave
her hope, however, "because of the kind of situation I'm in: experiencing grief
every single day but having no way to express it."
After following Friedman's guidance to "imagine you are letting go of
anger, pain," Lavin's drumming intensified in loudness and speed.
"That's right, let it out," Friedman said. "Anything that might have gone
wrong in your life. Focus on your love for yourself, for your daughter."
"Wow!" Lavin remarked. "I have a daughter with spina bifida. ... It's all
in there. I feel the tears, the hurt for her."
Lavin, who is a member of the National Guild of Hypnotherapists and the
International Association of Counselors and Therapists, expressed relief.
"I would never know that was in me," she remarked. "I had no idea what was
going to come out. I feel comfort. I don't often let myself admit the depth of
the grief and the frustration. I've been seeking therapeutic relief and have
been in therapy for years and never found it."
Lavin shared a wish Olatunji expresses in Friedman's book: that there be a
drum in every home "to make your own sound and discover the power of the drum
to heal yourself psychologically, physiologically or spiritually."
"I go along with that," she said. "I'm going to buy a drum."
Friedman may be contacted at 718-520-1794, or through his Web site,
For those wishing to join a drumming circle, the Nassau-Queens Drum and Dance
meets every second Saturday at St. Mark United Methodist Church, 200 Hempstead
Ave., Rockville Centre; Web site: www.loudjoy.com/nqdrum.
Drum and Dance, Queens, another drumming circle, may be reached through Step
Into the Spirit Books, 161-16 Union Tpke., Flushing, 718-969-6336.