We sat in a circle and were each given a drum. There were tentative glances all around, mild taps searching out to see how the drums worked. No, this wasn’t some crazy hippy drum circle (I’m not that kind of liberal), but a music therapy session with coworkers.
Music therapy sounds like it should be some sort of fake pseudo-science, like phrenology or flat Earth, but it’s actually completely rooted in clinical evidence. According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is defined as the use of music within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs.
Music therapy is not just rockin’ out to your favorite band, though. Instead, music therapy involves creating music, moving to music and even listening to music in a therapeutic context.
As we sat in our little circle, my coworkers and I glanced a little nervously at each other. We are a new team; the most senior of us has only been here for a year, the least only a few months. We are a mix of ages; our youngest a scant 23 (a prime of life for you math nerds), our oldest in his 60s. None of us knew really what to expect.
Our music therapist is a student working on her thesis for her master’s in music therapy. She starts us off each playing with the drums to just get a feel for the kind of sounds they can make. Very quickly we realize as individuals, we’re all musicians (two of us in band, two choir singers), and we naturally fall into a group tempo. Our rhythms weave in and out of each other. Inadvertently, we are making music.
After a few minutes of play, our therapist gives us a little rundown about music therapy. Each music therapy session should have goals. Our goal is just to communicate anything that is giving us some anxiety at the moment. We each vocally state our anxieties, and then, one by one, we are to play on our drums what our anxiety feels or sounds like.
For some, the sound of their anxiety is a steady, pounding, threatening boom. For others, it is light taps you can barely hear, but always present. As we play, the physicality of the drum helps work out some of the tension. It’s a distraction that allows us to perhaps be more open than we are naturally inclined to be as stoic Midwesterners.
The path to becoming a licensed music therapist is as rigorous as any other therapist. Not only does the music therapist need to be a proficient musician with several instruments (a degree in and of itself), but also needs to complete coursework in psychology, biology, counseling and behavioral sciences. There is also a certification exam and 1,200 clinic hours. Frankly, it sounds really hard to a guy who spends his days drawing dumb comics.
As our time came to a close, everyone felt a little calmer. Even though we didn’t really talk about things, the act of coming together and fitting our own beats in with each other, layering our anxieties on top of each other, seemed to be effective. As a team-building exercise, our new team came together a bit better than before.
Sadly, we didn’t get to keep the drums.